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Rebels repel pro-Gadhafi forces from port

March 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed Wednesday to fight to the "last man and last woman" in order to defend his country. He also warned if the U.S. or NATO intervened, thousands of Libyans would die.

Gadhafi also claims the country's oil fields and ports are safe and under control.

The message came as forces loyal to Gadhafi re-claimed a key oil installation and port on the country's Mediterranean coast. They also bombed an ammunition plant in a rebel-controlled town about 40 miles away.

The assault on the Brega oil port appeared to be the first significant attempt by Gadhafi's regime to push back against the large swath of territory in opposition hands - almost the entire eastern half of the country. For the past week, pro-Gadhafi forces have been focusing on the west, securing his stronghold in the capital Tripoli and trying to take back nearby rebel-held cities with only mixed success.

Rebel forces managed to overcome the pro-Gadhafi troops and cornered them following the battle.

Opposition leaders called for airstrikes from other countries to aid them in their fight against Gadhafi.

Pro-Gadhafi forces are said to comprise a loose organization of military troops, militiamen and mercenaries. They have been battling citizen militias in the east.

The opposition has held the oil port city of Brega since last week. Pro-Gadhafi forces attacked the city in an effort to retake it, as well as other eastern cities that have fallen in the past week. Brega is about 460 miles east of the capital city, Tripoli, where Gadhafi still holds power.

Brega is the second-largest hydrocarbon complex in OPEC-member Libya. Amid the turmoil, exports from its ports have all but stopped with no ships coming to load up with crude and natural gas. Crude production in the southeastern oil fields that feed into the facility has been scaled back because storage facilities at Brega were filling up. General Manager Fathi Eissa said last week the facility has had to scale back production dramatically from 90,000 barrels of crude a day to just 11,000.

The chaos in Libya - which has Africa's largest proven oil reserves - has sparked a major spike in world oil prices on worries the unrest will spread. Overall, crude production has dropped from 1.6 million barrels per day, nearly 2 percent of world consumption, to as little as 600,000 barrels per day. On Wednesday, oil prices rose near $102 per barrel, prices not seen since Sept. 2008.

Meantime, the U.S. Senate has approved a resolution condemning human rights abuses in the country and also demands Gadhafi steps down.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also ordered two Navy ships to the Mediterranean. He says the ships are there for humanitarian relief and emergency evacuations, not military force.

"I would note that the U.N. Security Council resolution provides no authorization for the use of armed force. There is no unanimity within NATO for the use of armed force," said Gates.

The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people have died in the conflict so far.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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