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Libyan rebels advance on strategic oil town

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April 4, 2011, 1:30 p.m. | World — by Associated Press

Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, vice chairman of the National Provisional Council talks during an interview with the Associated Press in Benghazi, Libya Sunday, April 3, 2011. The Libyan rebel movement that controls the country's eastern half wants to install a parliamentary democracy across the country once they topple the regime of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, a top rebel official said Sunday.
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BREGA, Libya (AP) — Libyan rebels pushed into the strategic oil town of Brega on April 4 but came under fire from Moammar Gadhafi's forces, as a government envoy began a diplomatic push in Europe to discuss an end to the fighting. Brega has been the site of battles during weeks of back-and-forth battling along Libya's eastern coast. On Monday, the town was under rebel control although there were bursts of artillery and shelling.

"We're advancing. By today we'll have full control of Brega," said Salam Idrisi, 42, a rebel fighter. "We're more organized now, and that's played a big role."

An envoy of Gadhafi told Greece's prime minister Sunday that the Libyan leader was seeking a way out of his country's crisis two weeks after his government's attacks to put down a rebellion drew international airstrikes, Greek officials said.

Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi, a former Libyan prime minister who has served as a Gadhafi envoy during the crisis, will travel next to Turkey and Malta in a sign that Gadhafi's regime may be softening its hard line in the face of the sustained attacks.

"From the Libyan envoy's comments it appears that the regime is seeking a solution," Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said in a statement after the meeting in Athens.

The foreign minister said the Greek side stressed the international community's call for Libya to comply with the U.N. resolution that authorized the airstrikes and demanded Gadhafi and the rebels end hostilities.

The message, Droutsas said, was: "Full respect and implementation of the United Nations decisions, an immediate cease-fire, an end to violence and hostilities, particularly against the civilian population of Libya."

Gadhafi's government has declared several cease-fires but has not abided by them.

Few other details of the Athens talks were released publicly.

On Friday, the Libyan envoy had said Gadhafi's government was attempting to hold talks with the U.S., Britain and France in an effort to halt the international airstrikes that began March 19 and which have pounded Libya's troops and armor and grounded its air force.

Gadhafi's superior forces had been close to taking the rebel capital of Benghazi in eastern Libya before the international military campaign.

Rebel forces made up of defected army units and armed civilians have since seized much of Libya's eastern coast, but have been unable to push westward toward the capital, Tripoli.

On Sunday, Gadhafi's forces pressed on with attacks against Misrata, the last key city in the western half of the country still largely under rebel control despite a weeks-long assault.

Government troops besieged civilian areas for around two hours Sunday morning with Grad rockets and mortar shells and lined a main street with snipers, said a doctor in the city.

Two shells landed on a field hospital, killing one person and injuring 11, he said. The attacks, including tank fire, began again after nightfall, he said. He did not want to be identified by name out of fear for his security.

A Turkish ship carrying 250 wounded from Misrata docked in Benghazi Sunday. The boat, which carried medical supplies, was also expected to pick up around 60 wounded people being treated in various hospitals in Benghazi, as well as 30 Turks and 40 people from Greece, Ukraine, Britain, Uzbekistan, Germany and Finland.

A leader of the rebel movement, meanwhile, sought to ease concerns from Western governments about its character and goals, emphasizing in an interview that the rebels will not allow Islamic extremists to hijack their plans to install a parliamentary democracy in place of Gadhafi's four-decade rule.

The issue takes on added importance as Western officials debate whether to send the rebels weaponry in an attempt to help them gain the upper hand over Gadhafi's superior troops.
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