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Libyan forces push rebels back

Libyan government forces have unleashed a withering bombardment on rebels outside a key oil town, pushing them back even as the regime said Muammar Gaddafi might consider some reforms but would not step down.

The rebels managed to take part of the town of Brega on Monday, aided by an international air campaign that has pounded Gaddafi's heavy weapons, but the rocket and artillery salvos unleashed on the rebels indicated the government's offensive capabilities remain.

Rebel attempts to fire rockets and mortars against the government forces were met with aggressive counter bombardments that sent many of the rebel forces scrambling back all the way to the town of Ajdabiya, dozens of miles away. There did not appear to be any immediate response from the international aircraft patrolling the skies that have aided the rebels in the past.

Rebel forces have been helped by the arrival on the front of more trained soldiers and heavier weapons, but they are still struggling to match the more experienced and better equipped government troops, even with the aid of air strikes.

Nato said that its aerial onslaught on Gaddafi's forces has so far destroyed 30% of the Libyan strongman's military weapons.

Brigadier General Mark Van Uhm said that Nato planes had conducted 14 attacks on ground targets on Monday, destroying radar, munitions dumps, armoured vehicles and a rocket launcher.

Nato planes have flown more than 850 sorties in the six days since the alliance took command of all operations from a US-led international force that had been bombing Libya since March 19. United States combat aircraft ended their role on Monday, but US forces continue to provide support, including aerial surveillance, reconnaissance, and aerial refuelling to Nato allies.

A Libyan rebel military leader later lashed out at Nato saying it is not doing enough to protect opponents of Gaddafi.

Abdel-Fattah Younis said that Nato forces "don't do anything" even though the United Nations gave them the right to act.

He complained about what he says is an overly bureaucratic process that means Nato takes hours to respond to events on the battlefield.

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