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Libyan rebels advance on oil town

Libyan rebels have recaptured most of a strategic oil town that has repeatedly changed hands in weeks of battles.

There were bursts of artillery and shelling from Muammar Gaddafi's forces in the west as rebels pushed into eastern sections of Brega.

"New Brega is under control of our forces and we are mopping up around the university," said Lt Muftah Omar Hamza, a former member of Libya's air force.

Brega stretches out over several miles of the coast and is concentrated in three main sections: New Brega, a largely residential area on the east end; West Brega, which includes a refinery and housing for oil workers; and a university between them. West Brega was still contested.

The uprising that began in February against Gaddafi's 42-year rule has reached a stalemate, with a series of towns along one stretch of Mediterranean coastline passing back and forth multiple times between the two sides.

Although the regime's forces are more powerful and plentiful, they have been unable to decisively defeat a poorly equipped and badly organised rebel force backed by Nato airstrikes.

Rebel forces made up of defected army units and armed civilians have seized much of Libya's eastern coast, but have been unable to push westward toward the capital, Tripoli.

"We're advancing. By today we'll have full control of Brega," said Salam Idrisi, 42, a rebel fighter. "We're more organised now, and that's played a big role."

Meanwhile Italy recognised the rebel-led Libyan National Transitional Council as the country's only legitimate voice, becoming only the third country, after France and Qatar, to do so.

After speaking with the council's foreign envoy, Ali al-Essawi, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the only way to resolve the conflict in the former Italian colony is for Gaddafi to leave - along with his sons.

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