Explosion at hotel in rebel city blamed on Libyan regime

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The Independent Online

An explosion blamed on forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi struck outside a hotel popular with foreign diplomats in Benghazi yesterday, as the regime suffered another setback with the defection of its oil minister.

There was confusion over the exact cause of the blast and no injures were reported, but rebels said it was likely to be the work of elements close to the regime and a rare attack in the eastern city which has become the alternative seat of government. The Tebesty Hotel is popular with visiting diplomats who come to Benghazi to hold talks in an effort to break the stalemate.

Jalal al-Gallal, a rebel spokesman, said: "It's a cowardly act."

Nato yesterday extended its military mission for another 90 days and Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said it was only a matter of time before Gaddafi left power. Although the dictator has appeared defiant, there are signs his regime is crumbling under the bombing raids.

The top oil official, Shokri Ghanem, yesterday became the latest senior figure to desert, saying: "The continuous blood spill, continuous war and loss of life make it impossible... to work in this environment."

The UN yesterday said there is evidence of war crimes on both sides during the conflict.

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