Rebels reinforce key Libyan oil port in east

BREGA, Libya (AP) — Rebels reinforced a key oil port Thursday while facing new regime airstrikes in eastern Libya, and thousands of angry mourners buried victims of a counteroffensive by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, shooting guns in the air, shouting “Down with Gadhafi!” and swearing to take vengeance.

Although there have been stirrings of a diplomatic effort to ease the crisis, an opposition spokesman flatly ruled out any negotiations with Gadhafi, saying “his hands are tainted with blood.”

President Barack Obama insisted that Gadhafi leave office, declaring he had “lost the legitimacy to lead.”

He pledged to hold Gadhafi and his loyalists accountable, saying the U.S. and the entire world were outraged by violence against the rebels, and he lauded U.N. sanctions meant to put international pressure on the longtime ruler.

Signaling he was digging in, Gadhafi’s regime apparently has stepped up its recruitment of mercenaries from other African countries, with an official in neighboring Mali saying that 200-300 men have left for Libya in the last week.

Army units that have joined the rebels fanned out in the oil facilities and port at Brega, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers and dressed in camouflage army uniforms with checkered keffiyehs. They were backed by at least a dozen pickup trucks with mounted machine guns or towing rocket launchers.

Government warplanes launched a new airstrike on the town Thursday morning, according to witnesses. It was not clear what they targeted, but it was likely an airstrip of the huge oil complex on the Mediterranean coast.

No casualties were reported, and pro-Gadhafi forces withdrew 80 miles to the west to another oil port, Ras Lanouf, after their defeat Wednesday by citizen militias from nearby towns and cities.

Gadhafi has unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab nation to the recent wave of anti-government protests. Hundreds are known to have been killed, and some estimates top 1,000.

Oil prices — which have risen to their levels in more than two years — eased below $102 a barrel Thursday on profit-taking and hopes that the conflict in Libya — a member of OPEC — might be resolved by international mediation. Gadhafi ally President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela proposed that his country and a bloc of “friendly” nations mediate, but so far Gadhafi has not responded, and opposition spokesman Mustafa Gheriani ruled out talks.

ICC prosecutor: Gadhafi, sons to be investigated

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court will investigate Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his inner circle, including some of his sons, for possible crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, the prosecutor said Thursday.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Gadhafi’s security forces are alleged to have attacked “peaceful demonstrators” in several towns and cities across Libya since Feb. 15, and he identified Gadhafi and several commanders and regime officials as having formal or de facto command over the forces that may have committed crimes.

Moreno-Ocampo vowed there would be “no impunity in Libya.”

Armed with unusual authority from the U.N. Security Council, Moreno-Ocampo acted with unprecedented haste to launch an investigation, partly to warn Libyan officials against any continued slaughter of civilians.

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