Tanker that loaded oil in Libyan rebel port still in Med -minister

BENGHAZI, Libya Sun Mar 16, 2014 7:53pm GMT

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A tanker that loaded oil at a Libyan port held by rebels is still sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, a government minister said on Sunday, contradicting claims by the rebels that it had reached its destination.

The rebels, in the east of the country, who are calling for a greater share of oil wealth and autonomy, managed last week to load crude onto a 37,000 tonne-tanker, which escaped the Libyan navy, embarrassing the weak central government and prompting parliament to vote the prime minister out of office.

"The tanker has not reached its destination yet," Justice Minister Salah al-Merghani told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi. "The tanker is still in the Mediterranean Sea."

He gave no more details, saying only that the tanker's movements were "being monitored internationally."

On Saturday, the rebels said the tanker had reached its final port, without saying where.

The Libyan navy lost contact with the tanker after firing on it on Monday or Tuesday, officials have said.

The standoff over control of the OPEC country's oil is part of wider turmoil that has engulfed the vast North African country since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi nearly three years ago.

The government and nascent army have struggled to control brigades of former anti-Gaddafi fighters who have refused to disarm and have used their military muscle to make political demands on the state, often by targeting the vital oil sector.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli and Feras Bosalum; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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