Benghazi - Libya's rebel leadership on Thursday welcomed the defection of former oil minister Shukri Ghanem, a key official in the regime of Muammer Gaddafi.
"The National Transitional Council (NTC) salutes the latest defection from the Gaddafi regime, that of Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem," Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the rebel group which holds the east of Libya, said in a statement.
"In recent days and weeks we have witnessed an acceleration in defections from the Kadhafi regime, which has no legitimacy, credibility or future," he added.
Saying that Ghanem's defection was saluted by the whole of Libya, the NTC called on others to follow his example, adding that Libyans should unite with the rebels to finish off the Kadhafi regime.
Ghanem announced in Rome on Wednesday that he had left Libya to join the rebellion and "fight for a democratic state."
He added however that he was not working with the NTC in Benghazi.
Ghanem, the head of the state-run National Oil Corporation (NOC) who has been Libya's representative at the Opec oil cartel for years, said his country was "moving towards a total block on oil production."
"Only very little is being produced for security reasons, because it's not possible to export it, because of the UN embargo and the fact that the foreigners have all left," he said.
The former minister arrived in Tunisia on May 14 then disappeared. Press reports at the time said he had apparently defected, adding to dozens of other political and military figures who have abandoned Kadhafi.