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Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi sent troops to recapture towns in western Libya and prepared to quash protests in the capital, Tripoli, as rebels fought for control of oil ports on the country’s central and eastern coastal strip.

The conflict has left 6,000 people dead, the opposition forces’ spokesman, Abdullah Al Mahdi, told Al Jazeera television today. Al Mahdi, a colonel who defected from Qaddafi’s military, said the rebels will next target Tripoli. Government forces fired live rounds and tear gas at a group of about 1,500 protesters in the capital as the regime stepped up its crackdown on dissent, the Associated Press said, citing witnesses.

Clashes in Misrata, a town about 90 miles (150 kilometers) east of Tripoli that was under opposition control, left at least 33 dead and 120 injured, a witness told Al Arabiya. Government troops attacked Zawiyah, west of Tripoli and the nearest rebel- held town, where 13 people died, a doctor told Al Arabiya. A rebel military leader was killed in Zawiyah, Al Jazeera said.

Fighting spread across the Gulf of Sidra with clashes in the oil port of Ras Lanuf and the nearby desert area of Al Agaila, according to Al Jazeera. Crude oil rose to a 29-month high in New York on concern that the unrest in Libya will spread to other regional oil producers, curbing exports.

Crude for April delivery rose 1.1 percent to $103.01 a barrel at 9:08 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange, heading for a gain of more than 5 percent this week. Production in Libya, which holds Africa’s largest reserves, has dropped by more than half, with as much as 1 million barrels of daily output lost.

Forces Retreat

Some pro-Qaddafi units withdrew from Ras Lanuf after a split within the government forces during the battle with rebels, the network said. A convoy of about 100 cars carrying rebel fighters was headed toward the town, Al Jazeera said.

Ras Lanuf has a tanker terminal that exports about 200,000 barrels a day as well as Libya’s biggest refinery, with a capacity of 220,000 barrels a day, more than half the country’s total, according to the International Energy Agency.

In Brega, an energy hub east of Ras Lanuf with a smaller terminal and refinery, an oil company building was bombed, Al Arabiya said. The rebels have repelled government attempts to retake Brega over the past three days. Their stronghold is Benghazi, the second-biggest city, at the gulf’s eastern end.

Interpol Alert

Interpol issued a global alert, known as an Orange Notice, against Qaddafi and 15 other Libyans, including members of his family and close associates. The notice is “to warn member states of the danger posed by the movement of these individuals and their assets” and to assist member states to enforce United Nations sanctions against them and to aid the International Criminal Court investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya, Interpol said in an e-mailed statement.

President Barack Obama said the U.S. military is ready to protect civilians caught up in the conflict. Libyan rebels have called for international enforcement of a no-fly zone over the country, a measure Defense Secretary Robert Gates has described as a “big operation.” Speaking at the White House, Obama said the U.S. is considering a “full range” of military options and needs to have the capacity to act in a humanitarian crisis.

Air, Sea Evacuation

The U.S. is sending military and chartered civilian aircraft to help repatriate foreign workers who fled Libya and are now crowding border refugee camps in Tunisia and Egypt, Obama said. The U.K. is carrying evacuees to Egypt and Malta by air and sea, and India has dispatched two navy troop-carriers to the Mediterranean.

The heads of the UN, European Union, Arab League and Organization of the Islamic Conference yesterday urged Qaddafi to permit immediate access for aid workers to help displaced Libyans and migrant workers. More than 150,000 people have fled Libya to neighboring Egypt and Tunisia since Feb. 19, the UN refugee agency said on March 1. The EU said it may expand sanctions on Libya next week.

Libya’s opposition leaders rejected a mediation offer by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ally of Qaddafi. The Libyan leader’s “hands are tainted with blood and we will not talk to him,” rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said, according to the Associated Press. The Arab League said it was considering Chavez’s plan.

The EU is considering widening its sanctions on Libya, an EU official said. EU policy makers are discussing imposing the sanctions on more people and the possibility of imposing them on organizations as well as individuals, the official said today in Brussels on condition of anonymity.

Ship Seized

A ship heading to Libya and believed to be carrying a “significant amount” of Libyan currency subject to UN sanctions was stopped and brought back to Britain two days ago, the U.K. Home Office said today.

Protesters elsewhere in the region resumed their demands for civil rights, higher living standards and the ouster of entrenched autocratic regimes.

In Yemen, an opposition group said two people were killed when security forces attacked protesters in Harf Sufian, north of the capital, Sana’a. Tens of thousands joined demonstrations in Sana’a calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three- decade rule, and there were rallies in other cities.

Opposition leaders yesterday presented Saleh with a plan for a transition to democracy this year. About a dozen people have died in more than three weeks of protests.

Egyptian Leader

In Egypt, Prime Minister-designate Essam Sharaf addressed a crowd of thousands in Tahrir Square, saluting the “martyrs” who died in the fight to unseat Hosni Mubarak, and saying he would derive legitimacy from the people.

Egyptian protesters continued to demand further changes after Mubarak’s Feb. 11 ouster, including a purge of old-regime officials from the government. The ruling military council yesterday bowed to one of their key demands, accepting the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and inviting Sharaf to take his place.

In Bahrain, there were clashes between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in a central town, Reuters reported. The mostly Shiite opposition, representing the majority sect in the Persian Gulf island state, had planned rallies today in Manama, the capital, to demand a transition toward democracy.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, a Sunni, said dialogue with the opposition must begin “as soon as practically possible” to end more than two weeks of unrest in which at least seven protesters were killed in a security crackdown.

Tunisia, where the Middle Eastern turmoil began two months ago, announced July elections for a national council that will draw up a new constitution.BW

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