Following in the footsteps of 120 Libyan soldiers--including eight Libyan army officers--who defected earlier this week, Libya's oil minister, Shukri Ghanem, turned up in Rome on Wednesday to announce that he's defecting from Muammar Qaddafi's government because of the "unbearable" violence and "daily spilling of blood" in the country, but added that he hadn't yet decided whether to join the rebels. At a press conference organized by the Libyan ambassador to Rome, who has also defected, Ghanem said he supported "Libyan youth fighting for a constitutional state" and thought a peaceful resolution to the crisis could still be reached, according to Reuters. Ghanem is arguably the highest profile Libyan official to abandon Qaddafi since foreign minister Moussa Koussa fled the country in March.
Ghanem's whereabouts have been the subject of much debate in recent weeks. Some reports suggested that he'd crossed into Tunisia and defected, while others indicated that he was traveling abroad to secretly help the Libyan regime maintain ties with oil companies. Libyan officials insisted that Ghanem was conducting official business in Tunisia, Europe, and Egypt.