* Gaddafi forces recapture much of Zawiyah near Tripoli
* Rebels say take Ras Lanuf
* Government forces bomb Benghazi arms depot, rebels say
(Recasts with fighting in Zawiyah, Ras Lanuf, Benghazi bombing)
By Mohammed Abbas
AJDABIYAH, Libya, March 4 Muammar Gaddafi's
forces fought their way into a rebel-held western town on
Friday, but rebels said they had captured the eastern oil town
of Ras Lanuf, extending their hold on eastern Libya.
The fighting appeared to confirm the division of the vast
desert oil-producing state between a western area round the
capital Tripoli held by forces loyal to Gaddafi and an eastern
region held by those rebelling against his four-decade rule.
In Zawiyah, a town 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli whose
control by the rebels had embarrassed the government, "dozens
were killed and more were wounded," by pro-Gaddafi forces, said
Mohamed, a resident. "We have counted 30 dead civilians."
The loyalist forces used grenade-launchers, heavy
machineguns and snipers on the roof of a new hotel to fire at
protesters when they marched after Friday prayers to demand the
fall of the regime, Mohamed said.
An improvised rebel force had withdrawn to the central
Martyrs Square, and government troops were 4-5 kilometres away,
a rebel spokesman said.
A Libyan government official said of the town: "It's been
liberated, maybe there are still some pockets (under rebel
control) but otherwise it's been liberated."
In the east, rebels said their forces had taken the oil town
of Ras Lanuf, which lies on a strategic coastal road, hours
after saying they had captured the town's airport.
"We have taken Ras Lanuf 100 percent, Gaddafi's forces have
all left," rebel soldier Hafez Ibrahim said from the town. He
did not say who controlled the nearby military base and oil
More on Middle East unrest: [nTOPMEAST] [nLDE71O2CH]
Western leaders call for Gaddafi to go [ID:nLDE71Q0L4]
Western forces in region link.reuters.com/jen38r
Latest graphic: r.reuters.com/nym77r
Interactive factbox link.reuters.com/puk87r
A deputy foreign minister in Tripoli, however, told
reporters that government forces still held the town.
Rebels have already seized control of much of the rest of
eastern Libya, the main oil-producing part of the country, in a
popular uprising centred on Benghazi, Libya's second city.
A rebel spokesman said pro-Gaddafi forces bombed an arms
depot -- one of the biggest weapons depots in the region -- on
the outskirts of Benghazi on Friday.
"A lot of people have been killed. There are many people in
the hospital. No one can approach, it's still very dangerous,"
said a resident who would only identify himself as Saleh.
Security forces had cordoned off the area, and a Reuters
witness said at least eight ambulances were seen ferrying
casualties from the scene. Windows were shattered in suburbs
several kilometres from the scene, residents said.
The uprising against Gaddafi is the bloodiest yet against a
long-serving ruler in the Arab world, and follows the ousting in
the past weeks of the long-time presidents of both Tunisia and
Egypt -- Libya's western and eastern neighbours.
The cut in Libya's 1.6 million barrel per day oil output --
caused partly by the flight of thousands of key foreign oil
workers -- is a major blow to its economy.
News of the fighting pushed up U.S. crude prices to their
highest levels since September 2008, and Brent crude futures for
April delivery LCOc1 rose $1.36 to $116.17 a barrel.
The International Energy Agency said one million barrels per
day (bpd) of Libya's oil output was shut, the top of the range
it had estimated on Wednesday. [ID:nWEB3662]
The upheaval has caused a humanitarian emergency on the
Tunisian border where tens of thousands of foreign workers have
fled to safety. An international airlift is under way, reducing
the number of refugees stranded in tented camps.
The rebels earlier told Reuters they were open to talks only
about Gaddafi's exile or resignation, following attacks on
civilians that have provoked international condemnation, arms
and economic sanctions and a war crimes probe.
"Victory or death ... We will not stop until we liberate all
this country," Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel National
Libyan Council told supporters of the two-week-old uprising.
Western nations have called on Gaddafi to go and are
considering various options including the imposition of a no-fly
zone, but are wary about any offensive military involvement.
In Tripoli, shooting rang out across Tajoura district as
Gaddafi loyalists broke up a crowd of protesters seeking an end
to his long rule and shouting "Gaddafi is the enemy of God!"
The demonstrators spilled out of the Murat Adha mosque after
Friday prayers, and several hundred began chanting for an end to
Gaddafi's four decades in power.
Up to 100 people in Tripoli had been arrested, accused of
helping the rebels, Al Jazeera said.
Earlier on Friday, rebel volunteers said a rocket attack by
a government warplane just missed a rebel-held military base
which houses an arsenal in the eastern town of Ajdabiyah.
(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina, Michael Georgy,
Yvonne Bell and Chris Helgren in Tripoli, Tom Pfeiffer and
Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi, Souhail Karam and Marie-Louise
Gumuchian in Rabat, Yannis Behrakis and Douglas Hamilton on
Tunisia border; Christian Lowe and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers;
Writing by Tim Pearce; editing by Myra MacDonald)