Libya's Top Oil Official Defects: Tunisian Source

Libyan rebels also said they had information that Shokri Ghanem, 68, had defected, a move that if confirmed would deal a blow to Gaddafi’s efforts to shore up his 41-year rule.

“He is in a hotel with a group of other Libyan officials,” the Tunisian source told Reuters. Another Tunisian security source said he was on his way to the capital Tunis.

A government official in Tripoli said there was no sign Ghanem had defected.

Rebels hold Benghazi and the oil-producing east of the North African country, helped by a NATO bombing campaign sanctioned at the United Nations to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces.

But the military victory rebels once sought seems a distant prospect and many pin their hopes on a collapse of central power in Tripoli driven by defections and disaffection.

To that end, any defection by Ghanem could be significant. The oil chief is an internationally respected technocrat credited with liberalising Libya’s economy and energy sector.

He has been director of research at the OPEC secretariat in Vienna, economy and trade minister in Tripoli and prime minister. Reuters