|After weeks of fighting in the western Libyan town of Zintan, the opposition seems to have the upper hand[Reuters]
The government of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has announced it will send a representative to the meeting of the international oil-exporting countries' group, OPEC, a day after Shokri Ghanem, the country's oil minister, confirmed his defection.
Mussa Ibrahim, the Libyan government spokesperson, said on Thursday that the government would be represented at the meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna on June 8.
"I don't have a name yet, but we'll have somebody," he said.
The announcement came a day after Ghanem told reporters in Rome that he now supports the Libyan opposition, making him the second most senior official to quit the Gaddafi government.
However, Ibrahim played down the significance of Ghanem's departure. "This is a country, a state, a government, not just one person," Ibrahim told the Reuters news agency.
Up to now, oil and gas has accounted for 95 per cent of Libya's export income, 25 per cent of its gross domestic product and 80 per cent of government revenue, according to US government statistics.
Western towns liberated
Meanwhile, opposition fighters in the country's west said they had managed to force Gaddafi troops out of the towns of Qasr el-Haj and Shakchuk on Wednesday. The towns had been under attack since February.
Residents and opposition forces in the west celebrated on the streets after a battle that lasted for nearly 12 hours.
|Opposition fighters say they have forced Gaddafi troops out of two towns in the west [Al Jazeera]
By liberating the two towns, the opposition says it will now be able restore electricity to three other areas, one of which is Zintan, which has been heavily bombarded in recent days.
In the city of Misurata, opposition fighters have pushed forces loyal to Gaddafi out of the centre of the city and pushed westwards towards the neighbouring town of Zlitan, where they are exchanging artillery fire.
"They (pro-Gaddafi forces) are randomly bombarding from an area near Zlitan," Youssef, an opposition spokesman, told Reuters from Misurata.
Zlitan could become the next battleground, opposition forces said.
Residents there said pro-Gaddafi forces have been moving into the town and mounting a crackdown to prevent Gaddafi opponents from rising up and joining the opposition.
"Gaddafi has tightened security here. His brigades have been getting reinforcement every day. They have stepped up their campaign to arrest, terrify and frighten residents," an opposition spokesman in Zlitan, who identified himself as Mabrouk, said.
"The humanitarian situation is very bad. There are shortages of foodstuffs, baby milk and medicine. There has been no fuel for almost two months," he said.
Tripoli under fresh attack
Explosions were also heard in central Tripoli in the early hours of Thursday and aircraft could be heard flying overhead.
Ambulances, sirens blaring, could be heard racing through the Libyan capital after the rattling blasts. A NATO statement said the attacks hit military vehicle and ammunition depots, a surface-to-air missile launcher and a fire control radar.
Libyan state television said NATO warplanes had struck targets in the city.
The air strikes rained down just hours after NATO and its partners said it would extend the Libyan mission for 90 more days in support of a rebel insurgency.
"...We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya"
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary-general
"This decision sends a clear message to the Gaddafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya," Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary-general, said.
On Wednesday, an explosion damaged a hotel used by fighters and foreigners in rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi, wounding one person.
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council in Benghazi, told Reuters the explosion outside Tibesti hotel was believed to have been caused by a hand grenade thrown in a "desperate attempt" by Gaddafi's loyalists to sow terror.
Now in its fourth month, the Libyan conflict is deadlocked, with the opposition forces unable to break out of their strongholds and advance towards Tripoli, where Gaddafi appears to be firmly entrenched.
Opposition forces control the east of Libya around Benghazi, the third-biggest city Misurata, and a mountain range stretching from the town of Zintan, 150km south of Tripoli, towards the border with Tunisia.
On Wednesday, a UN inquiry accused Gaddafi's regime of carrying out systematic attacks on the population, saying it committed war crimes and also crimes against humanity.
While it noted fewer reports of violations by the opposition, the commission of inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council also found that rebel forces committed acts that constituted war crimes.