BENGHAZI/SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - Libya’s interim rulers said on Friday they would announce a “crisis” government within the next few days, signalling a breakthrough in efforts to form a more inclusive administration after the war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
“We’ve agreed on a number of portfolios and who would hold the most important ones. There will be 22 portfolios and one vice premier,” said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC).
“It will be a compact government, a crisis government.”
NTC forces said they had tightened their grip on southern oasis towns which sided with Gaddafi. That progress is overshadowed by unsuccessful efforts to take two remaining strongholds loyal to the ousted leader.
It remains unclear whether the NTC, still based in the eastern city of Benghazi, can unify a country split along tribal and regional lines.
Getting the oil on which the economy relies pumping again is key to building the NTC’s credibility and earning more of the cash it needs to build a new state after 42 years of eccentric, one-man rule.
Those efforts were boosted on Friday when France’s Total said production at its Al-Jurf offshore field had restarted and that crude shipments were likely to resume in around two weeks.
The company said it still needed to carry out detailed inspections at its onshore sites before being in a position to say when it would restart production. Total has a Libyan crude production capacity of 55,000 barrels per day.
The announcement is the latest step towards getting oil pumping at full capacity again, though wresting control of Bani Walid and Sirte from Gaddafi’s forces remains the NTC priority.
A Reuters reporter on the western edges of Sirte saw dozens of cars with civilians leaving the town on Friday. Rebels fired sporadic tank shells and artillery at suspected positions of Gaddafi loyalists. NATO aircraft could be heard overhead.
“In the city, as soon as you leave the main square there is shooting. It is an effort to scare the residents,” said Massoud al Adawi, a fleeing resident of Sirte.
“Gaddafi loyalists) don’t want people to leave the city. They want to use them as human shields.”
Amr al-Aswar, a NTC military commander on the western edge of Sirte, said avoiding civilian casualties in the town was the main problem for his forces.
Until Thursday, some parts of Sabha, the traditional base for Gaddafi’s own tribe about 800 km (500 miles) south of Tripoli, had been occupied by fighters loyal to the leader who lost control of the capital and most of the country last month.
“Our revolutionaries are controlling 100 percent of Sabha city, although there are some pockets of resistance by snipers,” NTC military spokesman Ahmed Bani said on Thursday in Tripoli.
“This resistance is hopeless ... They are fighting for themselves, not for the tyrant,” he told reporters.
The NTC says it also controls Jufra, to the northeast of Sabha, and the nearby oasis towns of Sokna, Waddan, and Houn.
A manhunt for Gaddafi, who has been in hiding for weeks occasionally issuing defiant audio messages through Syrian-based Arrai TV, was drawing closer to its target, said Bani.
The network broadcast a bad-tempered audio message from Gaddafi’s daughter Aisha on Friday. It was the first time she had spoken publicly since fleeing into exile in Algeria last month along with two of his sons.
“I reassure you about your leader, oh Libyans,” the 35-year-old lawyer said, sounding distressed. “He is well and thank God his spirits are high. He is carrying his weapon and fighting along with his sons at the fronts.”
A spokesman for Gaddafi, Moussa Ibrahim, said on Thursday NATO air strikes and interim government forces’ shelling of Sirte were killing civilians.
His statement could not be verified as journalists are unable to reach the city. NATO comment was not immediately available.
Interim government fighters near Sirte and residents fleeing the city said pro-Gaddafi forces had been executing people suspected of sympathising with the NTC.
North of Bani Walid, NTC military forces brought forward tanks and Grad rocket launchers for a renewed attempt to take the town although it was not clear when the attack might begin.
The offensive there has been frustrated by stiff resistance from well-drilled loyalist fighters, and also a lack of organisation among the attacking forces. They operate in disparate units based on their home towns, with little overall command.
Many fighters go into battle wearing flip-flop sandals, t-shirts and jeans, and have no military training.
“We don’t take orders from the NTC. We listen only to our own commander,” said Ziyad Al Khemri, a fighter from Zawiyah, just west of Tripoli.
If the NTC cannot swiftly impose control on the country and its own forces, this may embarrass Western leaders, especially France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s David Cameron, who took a gamble by backing the anti-Gaddafi leadership.
The NTC said last week it would move to Tripoli only after its forces were in full control of Libyan territory, contradicting an earlier pledge to move the interim administration to the capital around mid-September.
“Complete liberation would be announced when we are in control of Sirte and Bani Walid and control all the border crossings,” said NTC spokesman Ghoga.
“This means Gaddafi forces would have no control over any of those crossings. I believe it’s a matter of few days.”
Reporting by Emma Farge, Joseph Logan and William Maclean in Tripoli, Sherine El Madany east of Sirte, Tarek Amara and Barry Malone in Tunis, Muriel Boselli in Paris, Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Writing by Joseph Nasr and Barry Malone; Editing by Ralph Gowling