The following are the top stories in the Maltese and overseas press:

The Times says that Malta has refused to mediate over Libya. It also reports that jobs are shaky as the Libya crisis drags on.

The Malta Independent reports that the Libyan opposition fears that the Gaddafi regime could seek to liquidate assets in Malta.

In-Nazzjon says the prime minister will today attend an EU summit on Libya.

l-orizzont says that minister Austin Gatt spent €834,669 on travel. It also says that Libya has warned of the consequences if the international community intervenes in the current upheaval.

The overseas press

Al Jazeera reports that following fierce barrages of tank and artillery fire, Muammar Gaddafi's loyalists have forced rebels to retreat from the strategic oil port of Ras Lanouf in a counteroffensive that reversed the opposition's advance toward the capital, Tripoli, and now threatened its positions in the east. Hundreds of rebels escaped eastward as rockets and shells pounded a hospital, mosque and other buildings in the oil complex. Pro- and anti-government forces are locked in intense fighting for control of several other cities and towns along the coastline to the east of Tripoli, including Brega and Bin Jawad, as well as in Az Zawiyah to the west of the capital.

Reuters news agency reports the African Union has named a panel of five heads of state to visit Libya to help ease hostilities. And foreign ministers of Arab states in the Gulf, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, have stressed that Gaddafi’s regime was illegitimate and that contacts should be initiated with the transitional National Council. The six-nation alliance urged Arab League foreign ministers, who are due to meet in Cairo on Saturday, "to shoulder their responsibilities in taking necessary measures to stop the bloodshed” In Tripoli, Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam vowed to retake the eastern half of the country.

Meanwhile, Al Arabiya says Gaddafi's government has sent a text message to Tripoli residents, warning imams at mosques against allowing protests after Friday prayers. The message quoted Saudi cleric Sheik Saleh Fawzan, a member of the Saudi Supreme Scholars Council, as saying it was "unacceptable" for any imam "who incites people (or) causes disturbances of the society in any mosque."

The rout of the rebels in Ras Lanouf came as the US director of national intelligence stressed at a US Senate hearing, that Gaddafi’s military was stronger than it has been described and said that "in the longer term ... the regime will prevail." The Washington Times says the White House later distanced Obama from the director's assessment. President Obama has called on Gaddafi to step down.

The Libyan opposition, however, made some diplomatic gains. Le Monde says France became the first country to recognise the rebels' eastern-based governing council. An ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy said his government was planning "targeted operations" to defend civilians if the international community approved.

AFP has reported that Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim has declared that France's recognition of Libya's opposition national council was "illegitimate and illegal".

The man who has emerged as the main opposition leader in Libya, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has told the BBC that the decision by France to recognise his interim administration represented legitimacy. He said he hoped that all countries would follow France’s lead.

The Washington Post says US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the US was suspending its relationship with Libya's remaining envoys to the country. She said she would meet with Libyan opposition figures when she travels to Egypt and Tunisia next week, marking the highest level contact between the US and the anti-Gaddafi elements.

L’Echo reports that the violence in Libya dominated a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, as the military alliance agreed to move its warships to the central Mediterranean to monitor the situation. NATO said it had started round-the-clock surveillance of Libyan airspace.

The Times quotes British Foreign Secretary William Hague saying a meeting of EU foreign ministers today would discuss how to isolate the regime.

The New York Times says the Egypt’s Ambassador to the UN has expressed serious concern about the more than one million Egyptians still in Libya. He expressed concern “that the tragic events that happened in Iraq using human shields to protect air defence systems on the ground would be repeated. He added that he had "no concrete information" about whether that was happening.

Berliner Zeitung quotes German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle saying the authorities had frozen billions of euros worth of assets of the Libyan Central Bank and other state-run agencies. "The brutal suppression of the Libyan freedom movement can now no longer be financed from funds that are in German banks," he said.

In other news…

Gulf News reports police in Saudi Arabia have opened fire at a protest rally in the city of Qatif in the east of the country. The police used grenades and fired into the air to disperse the demonstrators who were calling for political reforms.

According to China Central Television, at least 25 people were killed and another 250 injured – 134 of them in seriously – when a 5.8 earthquake shock China's southwest, near the border with Myanmar, and toppled more than 1,000 houses and apartment buildings. Police, firefighters and soldiers rushed to the area to pull out people trapped in the rubble.

Atlanta Journal says Georgia's 114-year-old Besse Cooper has been certified by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest living person. Earlier this year, Ms Cooper became the oldest living person after the death of Eunice G Sanborn of Texas. She was born in Tennessee on August 26 1896, during the second term of President Grover Cleveland.

Women who enjoy a daily dose of coffee may like to know that it might lower their risk of stroke. Expressen reports that women in a Swedish study who drank at least a cup of coffee every day had a 22 to 25 per cent lower risk of stroke, compared to those who drank less coffee or none at all.

Entertainment Weekly says “Two and a Half Men” executive producer Chuck Lorre has described Charlie Sheen's lawsuit for $100 million as 'fantasy'. Earlier Sheen had taken his verbal war against Warner Bros and Lorre to the courtroom, seeking to recoup his salary and wages for the show's cast and crew after he was fired amid controversy over his behaviour.

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