Libyan rebels lose oil port, but vow to regroup

AJDABIYA, Libya, March 12 (AP): Moammar Gadhafi's regime drove out pockets of rebel fighters who were keeping a tenuous hold around oil facilities in a key port city, showing growing strength Saturday after days of relentless shelling against protesters-turned-rebels.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Younis, who was the country's interior minister before he defected to the rebel side, acknowledged Saturday that Gadhafi's forces now control both the town and the oil refinery in Ras Lanouf, 380 miles (615 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Tripoli. It was the latest setback for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country and were charging toward the capital.
But Younis vowed a comeback, saying "we should be back today or at the latest tomorrow."
The assault on Ras Lanouf in recent days was a sign the Gadhafi camp had regrouped after it first seemed to reel in confusion for the much of the uprising that began Feb. 15. With Gadhafi's men on the march against rebels, the international community appeared in disarray over how to stop the bloodshed.
Arab foreign ministers were meeting in Egypt on Saturday to discuss a no-fly zone over Libya to protect the civilian population from the Gadhafi regime's fighter jets. But the Arab League's member states are divided over how to deal with the Libyan crisis, signaling it would be a tough debate. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, also will be in Cairo on Saturday to meet with leaders of the Arab League.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said a no-fly zone remains a possibility as "we are slowly tightening the noose" around Gadhafi, but he stopped short of moving toward military action.
He cited actions already taken, including getting American citizens and embassy workers out of the country, slapping tough United Nations sanctions on Libya and seizing $30 billion in Gadhafi's assets.
The European Union, meanwhile, said a no-fly zone would need diplomatic backing from international organizations like the Arab League.
Government forces also recaptured the strategic town of Zawiya, near Tripoli, on Friday. Zawiya's main square, which had been a key center of resistance to the west of the capital, bore the scars of battle and the streets were lined with tanks as loyalists waving green flags rallied amid a heavy presence of uniformed pro-Gadhafi troops and snipers. There was talk of rebel bodies having been bulldozed away, and the dome and minaret of the nearby mosque were demolished.
The capture of Zawiya, a coastal city of about 200,000 people that is located near an oil port and refineries, seals off a corridor around the capital and solidifies the government's control over the western third of the country to the border with Tunisia. The government still faced a rebel challenge in Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.
The government had claimed victory in Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, on Wednesday, but the rebels who are seeking to oust Gadhafi said fighting was ongoing.
An Associated Press reporter, who was taken by the government with other journalists into the city on Friday, said the city was clearly in government control, with Libyan soldiers manning tanks and trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.