The Libyan rebels’ hopes of marching west to Tripoli were dashed Thursday when pro-Gaddafi forces sent them fleeing from the strategic refinery town of Ras Lanuf. Under heavy fire from rockets and airstrikes, hundreds of rebel fighters and trucks loaded with weapons left the city by eastern coastal roads, ending their several days of holding off militias loyal to Gaddafi’s regime. Gaddafi set out to retake eastern oil cities that had fallen into rebel hands, emboldening the resistance and sparking plans to march on Tripoli. The opposition forces have suffered from a lack of numbers, inferior weapons, and disorganization. Even as the rebels retreated, France became the first nation to recognize them as the legitimate government of Libya, and President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was prepared to order airstrikes on Gaddafi’s command centers. NATO members are meeting in Brussels to discuss options for intervention.
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