Libyan oil minister confirms defection

Shokri Ghanem says he can no more work for Muammar Gaddafi, but is undecided about joining the rebels.

    Ghanem is the highest ranking official to defect since top diplomat Moussa Koussa defected in March [REUTERS]

    Libya's oil minister has confirmed his defection from Muammar Gaddafi's government, citing the "daily spilling of blood" in the country as reason for his departure.

    Shokri Ghanem, head of the National Oil Corporation, said at a news conference in Rome, Italy on Wednesday that he supported the "Libyan youth fighting for a constitutional state", but was still undecided about joining the anti-Gaddafi regime rebels.

    "I can't work in this situation so I have left my country and my job to join the choice made by young Libyans to fight for a democratic country," he said at the conference organised  by the Libyan ambassador who has also defected, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency.

    But Ghanem added that he was not working with the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi, the main rebel administration in eastern Libya.

    Ghanem is one of the most high-profile and senior Libyan officials to have defected after Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi's foreign minister who defected in March.

    'Major blow'

    Al Jazeera's Cal Perry said Ghanem's announcement would be "a major blow to Gaddafi" as he was close to him.

    His whereabouts had been unknown, save for a border guard's confirmation to Al Jazeera of Ghanem crossing into Tunisia alone, without his family.

    The 68-year-old oil chief said he would not be representing Libya at the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a role he has primarily filled as leader of the country's delegation.

    Ghanem also said oil production in Libya is coming to a halt because of the international embargo.

    He has headed the oil ministry since 2006 and previously served as prime minister.

    The oil ministry generates the biggest income for Libya, which has about 41.5 billion barrels in oil reserves - the largest in Africa.

    Rebels have taken Benghazi and the oil-producing east of the North African country, their uprising helped by a NATO bombing campaign sanctioned by the UN to protect civilians.

    Benghazi concerns

    Al Jazeera's Perry said Ghanem's "indecision" about joining the rebel administration was of concern in Benghazi.

    "What [the NTC] certainly would like to hear is that he is defecting, that he is joining the rebels, that he's joining the fights against Colonel Gaddafi's forces, and that he puts his full weight behind NATO and those continued airstrikes."

    "People want to see the military action ramped up. They want to see these attack helicopters that we've been hearing about: 4 Apaches, 15 french helicopters, Tigers. They want to see those put in the theatre," Perry added.

    "They are worried about the stagnation on the military front. They want to see things pushing forward and those roads really opening up to Tripoli."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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