Libya rebels eye OPEC meetings as oil minister `defects`

Libya`s Oil Minister, Shukri Ghanem, crossed into neighbouring Tunisia.

Last Updated: May 18, 2011, 21:55 PM IST

Tripoli: Libya`s rebels said on Wednesday they
want to represent the oil-rich country at the June meeting of
OPEC, amid reports Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem has defected
from Muammar Gaddafi`s regime.

"We want to attend, and will study the legal
procedure," Mahmud Shammam, media spokesman for the rebels`
National Transitional Council (NTC) said in Dubai.

"We still do not know if OPEC will invite us," he
said.

Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem, a veteran of Muammar
Gaddafi`s regime, at the weekend crossed from Libya into
neighbouring Tunisia, a Tunisian official said, although it
was not clear if he had broken ranks and defected.

Ghanem, also chairman of Libya`s national oil company,
had been due to travel to Vienna for the next meeting of the
Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries on June 8.

The Tunisian official said Ghanem had checked into a
hotel on the southern tourist island of Djerba on Saturday.

The hotel said he had left with his family early Tuesday for
an unknown destination.

If the defection is confirmed, Ghanem would be among
the most senior officials to abandon Gaddafi`s government
since an uprising erupted in mid-February.

In April, the US Treasury Department froze the assets
of five senior Gaddafi regime figures, including Ghanem, in a
bid to fracture the veteran ruler`s inner circle.

Libya is a key crude-exporting nation but its output
has been slashed since the revolt began.

According to the International Energy Agency, Libya`s
exports averaged 1.49 million barrels per day (bpd) before the
uprising, with 85 per cent of that going to Europe. Output has
fallen as low as 300,000 bpd during the insurgency, although
rebels plan to ramp up production.

The European Union last month added to its Libya
sanctions list 26 energy firms accused of financing Gaddafi`s
regime, a move that Germany said amounted to a de facto oil
and gas embargo.

PTI