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News Wrap: Pro-Gadhafi Forces Claim to Recapture Key Oil Port

March 10, 2011 at 6:24 PM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: Wall Street was battered today by waves of economic worries. Disappointing data from China and the U.S. and new fears about Europe’s debt crisis fed the sell-off.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 228 points, to close at 11,984, its biggest drop since last August. The Nasdaq fell 50 points to close at 2,701.

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi blasted a key oil port with tanks and warplanes today and claimed they had recaptured it. The target was the city of Ras Lanuf, which rebel fighters had seized a week ago.

We have a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The skies were clear for Col. Gadhafi’s fighter jets today. The bomb falls perilously close to the Ras Lanuf oil refinery.

Earlier, one landed within the perimeter fence. We drive past. If the storage tanks of oil and gas were hit, the area for miles around would be devastated. We stop. And another falls.

That’s the second bomb we have seen falling in the last half-hour. The fighting is heavy. I can hear the thud of artillery. It seems that Col. Gadhafi’s forces are determined to move back towards Ras Lanuf. Maybe what they want is the oil refinery.

We were on sand dunes overlooking Ras Lanuf when artillery came in. The rebels say they have been fired on from three directions. Mortars and shells kill more than aerial bombardment, but bomb after bomb fell today and that’s what they fear the most.

They’re calling on NATO and the U.N..

AHMED FATTALAH ALMZENAI, former botany student: Moammar Gadhafi use airplane, big — big weapon. We have that, Kalashnikov, just this. Gadhafi use everything.

LINDSEY HILSUM: There’s a certain sense of panic here now.

Who’s in charge? Where’s the commander?

MAN: Who is helping? Allah. Allah is helping them.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Allah is the commander?

MAN: Allah. Allah.

LINDSEY HILSUM: In the regional capital, Benghazi, they were demonstrating, hoping somehow that would make this look more like an uprising again and less like a civil war.

A bomb even hit Brega, east of Ras Lanuf, another sign that Col. Gadhafi is determined to destabilize rebel territory. Rebel forces want international support, but no one is riding to their rescue. They’re on their own, pointing into the sky, never knowing when the next bomb will fall.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Gadhafi government also claimed again it had recaptured Zawiyah, just outside Tripoli. Reports from that town told of heavy destruction.

And one of Gadhafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, warned of much more to come. He said: “It’s time for action. We are moving now.”

France today became the first country to recognize a rebel group in Libya as a legitimate — as the legitimate government. In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with two representatives of the Libyan Interim Governing Council.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers convened in Brussels. The Portuguese foreign minister said he met with Gadhafi representatives yesterday and delivered this message.

LUIS AMADO, Portuguese foreign minister (through translator): From the international community’s point of view — and Portugal is on the sanctions committee against Libya — the Gadhafi regime is over. Regarding its legitimacy, it is over. But Tripoli must start a national dialogue with the opposition and work on a cease-fire as soon as possible.

KWAME HOLMAN: Also in Brussels, NATO defense ministers began two days of meetings. They announced the start of round-the-clock surveillance of Libyan airspace. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO also will send more ships to the region. And he said a no-fly zone was discussed.

But in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a congressional hearing there needs to be an international consensus before any action.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I am one of those who believes that, absent international authorization, the United States acting alone would be stepping into a situation whose consequences are unforeseeable. And I know that is the way our military feels. It’s easy for people to say, do this, do that, and then they turn and say, OK, U.S., go do it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Another top member of the administration caused a stir today over Libya. The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told a Senate hearing, “We believe that Gadhafi is in this for the long haul.” He went on to say that Libya’s large arsenal means that “the regime will prevail.”

Asked about the comments later, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said, that’s a one-dimensional view.

Police in Saudi Arabia opened fire today on a rally in the eastern city of Qatif. Several hundred Shiite protesters demonstrated for political reforms. Witnesses said police broke up the rally with shots and stun grenades. At least four people were hurt. Saudi authorities have warned of strong action against any attempt to mount large protests.

In Yemen, thousands of demonstrators turned out again for major protests. Once more, they demanded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. And they rejected Saleh’s call for a new constitution that guarantees the independence of the parliament and the courts.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, Egypt, crowds were gone from Tahrir Square after clashes yesterday between rival groups. The Egyptian army cleared everyone out, along with their tents and gear.

The president of Ivory Coast imposed a no-fly order today on U.N. aircraft in his West African country. Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step down, despite losing his reelection bid last year. The election winner, Alassane Ouattara, left Ivory Coast for a meeting today using a U.N. helicopter. Gbagbo’s no-fly order could make it difficult for Ouattara to return.

President and Mrs. Obama turned the White House limelight on the problem of school bullies today. The president convened a conference of students, educators, parents and other experts. He said he was harassed as a child because of his name and appearance. And he said he rejects the notion that it’s no big deal.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not. Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it’s not something we have to accept.

KWAME HOLMAN: A number of cases in recent months of bullying that led to suicides have drawn national attention.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.