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Libyan government troops have attacked a town west of Tripoli expanding the campaign to clear rebels from the western front around the capital.

In the east, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s offensive was slowed by opposition forces digging in at a key oil port.

The regime’s campaign in the west appeared to be hitting problems. Government shelling of the opposition-held city of Misrata which lasted until Monday morning stopped during the day.

Rebels said fighting had erupted among pro-Gaddafi troops surrounding the city, apparently after some had refused to attack.

Abdel-Fattah Ahmed, an opposition official in Misrata, said some of the government troops had “run off into the brush. No one has heard from them – we don’t know if they are alive or have been killed.” But other residents said it was still unclear if there had been a mutiny on the Gaddafi side.

Libya’s upheaval has turned into a two-front conflict along the country’s Mediterranean coast, where the majority of the population lives.

Gaddafi appears to have the upper hand but his forces do not seem strong enough to overwhelm the rebels – setting the stage for a longer, grinding conflict as the West debates whether to intervene, mulling the imposition of a no-fly zone that the rebels have been pleading for.

In the east, Gaddafi forces tried to push back the long stretch of territory controlled by rebels – nearly the entire eastern half of the country.

There government troops have scored victories using overpowering bombardments with artillery, tanks, planes and warships.

They drove rebels out of the oil port of Ras Lanouf several days ago, and another such bombardment rained down on Sunday on those holding the next oil facility to the east, Brega.

PA

Photo: Protesters sit atop a wall during anti-Gaddafi demonstrations in Tobruk, east of Tripoli March 14, 2011.

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