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WORLD IN BRIEF: Libya rebels flee oil port under barrage

Libya rebels flee oil port under barrage

RAS LANOUF, Libya — With fierce barrages of tank and artillery fire, Moammar Gadhafi’s loyalists threw rebels into a frantic retreat from a strategic oil port Thursday, using overwhelming force in a counteroffensive that reversed the opposition’s advance toward the capital Tripoli and now threatens its positions in the east.

Hundreds of rebels in cars and trucks mounted with machine guns sped eastward on the Mediterranean coastal road in a seemingly disorganized flight from Ras Lanouf as rockets and shells pounded a hospital, mosque and other buildings in the oil complex. Doctors and staff at the hospital were hastily evacuated east along with wounded from fighting from the past week.

Saudi police open fire during protest

CAIRO — Saudi police opened fire Thursday to disperse a protest in the section where minority Shiites live, leaving at least one man injured, as the government toughened its efforts to prevent a wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world from reaching the kingdom.

The rare violence raised concern about a crackdown ahead of planned protests after Friday prayers in different cities throughout the oil-rich kingdom. Violence there could reverberate through the world’s markets because of the importance of Saudi oil exports.

Discord is common between authorities and the country’s Shiites, who make up 10 percent of the kingdom’s 23 million citizens. They have long complained of discrimination, saying they are barred from key positions in the military and government and are not given an equal share of the country’s wealth.

Iraqi PM defends performance

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister Thursday defended his government’s performance in the face of protesters demanding more jobs, better services and less corruption — charging that lawmakers were just as much to blame for the crisis.

Like other countries in the Middle East, Iraq has been buffeted by protests in the wake of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Unlike elsewhere, demonstrators are not aiming to replace the regime. Instead, they focus on improving government services like electricity supply.