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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Libya escapees reach Tunisia, tell of violence, Posted by Meosha Eaton

* Accounts of fighting, abuse by security forces
* Tunisians, Egyptians seen targeted

By Michael Georgy

RAS JDIR, Tunisia, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Weighed down with suitcases, blankets and plastic bags, people fleeing turmoil in Libya crossed into Tunisia on Wednesday with tales of the violence they were leaving behind.

About 2,000 people had streamed over the Ras Jdir crossing point by midday, part of a wider exodus of tens of thousands of foreign nationals trying to escape the North African country whose leader Muammar Gaddafi is attempting to crush a revolt against his 41-year rule. "It's very bad. There is fighting between the police and army against civilians. The civilians have AK-47s. (The fighting) is mostly at night," an Algerian named Rashid told Reuters. Another who fled, Tunisian artist Hamdi Chalbi, said: "Militias tell people 'If you come out at night we will kill you.' People are scared."

Many people reached the border in cars and walked across, carrying their possessions. Medical tents and food stations awaited them on the Tunisian side, and police attempted to control the growing crowd.
A Tunisian named Nizar Youssef said Libyan police appeared to be targeting Egyptians and Tunisians for abuse: revolutions in both countries since the start of this year were seen as having inspired Libya's uprising.
"They held me for seven hours and beat me with cables," he said.

A Libyan man who crossed over said: "The west must bomb Gaddafi's oil and gas fields. If they don't, we (the Libyan people) will." Tunisia's national airline, Tunisair, has scheduled five flights to Libya on Wednesday to evacuate some 1,500 nationals. Other countries like Egypt, Turkey, the United States and Britain were also rushing to pull citizens out. Several evacuees arriving at Tunisia's capital by air on Tuesday told Reuters they had been beaten by police and denied food and water during a two-day wait at Tripoli airport.

Marwan Mohammed, a Tunisian at Ras Jdir, said it was dangerous to go outside in Libya's capital Tripoli because of armed gangs. "Pro-Gaddafi gunmen are roaming around threatening any people who gather in groups," he said. A Reuters reporter in Tripoli said that the streets were nearly deserted, with most businesses closed. Tunisia is also sending a ferry to Benghazi, the flashpoint of the Libyan uprising, to pick up some 1,400 Tunisians, though the timing has yet to be announced.

(Additional reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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