1 000 of Tunisians flee Libya

2011-02-23 11:21

Tunis - Thousands of Tunisians are fleeing Libya, many across its western land border, after a bloody crackdown on protests against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, state media reported on Tuesday.

Tunisia has at least 30 000 nationals in Libya and officials fear they could become targets because of Tunisia's role in uprisings across the Arab world. Tunisia's leader was overthrown in January, and Egypt's president fell on February 11.

Some 3 000 Tunisians crossed the border at Dhiba and Ben Gerden in southern Tunisia on Monday night, and another 1 200 were evacuated by air on Tuesday to Tunisia's capital, state media reported.

Tunisians arriving at the airport from Libya, some of them in tears, told Reuters they had been mistreated by Libyan security forces.

"They hit us with truncheons at the airport and insulted us," one of them said, asking not to be named. Another said police had fired on them on the road to the airport.

A third, who identified herself only as Sonia, said: "It was hell. We were treated like animals."

A source at Tunisia's Foreign Ministry told Reuters that Libya's government had given permission for five additional planes to land in Libya to evacuate Tunisian citizens. He gave no further details.

Tunisian authorities were also preparing for more refugees over the land borders in the coming days and had mobilised medical resources to help treat wounded.

Reports of killings

"We have installed tents at the border so that our brothers arriving from Libya can rest. We've provided food for them as well," Hussein Betaib, a union leader at Ben Gerden, told Reuters by telephone.

Gaddafi's forces have cracked down fiercely on demonstrators, with fighting spreading to the capital Tripoli after erupting in Libya's oil-producing east last week. Human Rights Watch says at least 233 people have been killed.

Tunisia's government has said it was concerned by reports of killings of protesters in Libya, adding it hoped for "a return of security and stability in this brother nation and for the legitimate will of the Libyan people to be attained".

Hundreds of marchers gathered outside the Libyan embassy in Tunisia's capital Tunis, chanting "Free Libya, Gaddafi out!"

Scores of Tunisians were killed by loyalists of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali during the wave of protests last month that forced him to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Tunisia's interim government, expected to set elections by July or August, has since sought to extradite Ben Ali and his wife to face criminal charges.

Read more on:    muammar gaddafi  |  tunisia  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  north africa  |  uprisings
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