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By RICHARD BOUDREAUX in Tripoli, Libya and ALEX DELMAR-MORGAN in Doha, Qatar
Libya's top oil official has left his embattled country, and Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime has lost contact with him, the Libyan government spokesman said Tuesday following a rebel official's report that the executive had defected.
A defection would make Shokri Ghanem, the chairman of Libya's National Oil Corp. and a former prime minister, one of the most prominent figures to abandon the regime since the start of an antigovernment uprising three months ago.
Analysts said the departure was the clearest sign in weeks that Col. Gadhafi, formally accused of war crimes and facing aerial attacks by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is losing support in the senior ranks of his regime.
NATO airstrikes early Tuesday hit two government buildings in Tripoli, including the Interior Ministry, setting them on fire. Three powerful blasts had been heard in Tripoli the previous night.Britain's Defense Ministry said late Monday an intelligence agency building and a training base for bodyguards for the regime's elite had been hit.
Western officials have said they hoped pressure from the bombing campaign would erode support within Col. Gadhafi's inner circle and force him from power. NATO said Tuesday that it had also stepped up efforts to encourage Gadhafi forces to desert, using radio messages and dropping leaflets advising people to stay away from military equipment and facilities.
NATO said Tuesday that it had also stepped up efforts to encourage Gadhafi forces to desert, using radio messages and dropping leaflets advising people to stay away from military equipment and facilities.
Shokri Ghanem, the chairman of Libya's National Oil Corp.