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Air strikes, clashes near two eastern Libyan oil ports

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[December 13, 2014]  BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Libya's recognized government conducted air strikes on targets on Saturday near the eastern oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es-Sider to stop an advance by a rival force toward the facilities, officials said.

The oil ports, two of Libya's biggest, accounting for more than 300,000 barrels a day of exports, were working normally, an oil official said.

The North African country is caught in a conflict between two competing governments, parliaments and chiefs of staff, allied to armed factions, part of turmoil three years after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.

Saqer al-Joroushi, an air force commander allied to Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, said his aircraft had attacked positions near Sirte, a costal city in central Libya.

He said a rival force from Misrata, a coastal city west of Sirte and the ports, had advanced toward the terminals with a large number of vehicles. "We bombed them to stop them from entering the ports," he said.

Tripoli-based al-Nabaa television said a force it said had been mandated by the General National Congress (GNC), a rival assembly based in Tripoli since a group called Libya Dawn seized the capital in August, had started an operation to take the ports.

It quoted the head of the force, adding that two people had been killed in clashes near Es-Sider port. Websites close to Libya Dawn also said such an operation had started.

Thinni has been forced to work out of the east since Libya Dawn seized the capital Tripoli after a one-month battle, setting up its own cabinet and reinstating the previous assembly, the GNC.

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The House of Representatives, elected in June, is also working out of the east.

Both governments have sought to control the oil facilities, the country's only source of income. Last month, Libya Dawn took over the southern El Sharara oilfield, one of the country's biggest, after a rival force from Zintan allied to Thinni had withdrawn.

Thinni said last week his government were trying to control the oil revenues by setting up a payment system outside the central bank in Tripoli.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli and Ulf Laessing; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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