Fierce Clashes Drive People Out Of Libya's Capital

People fleeing Libya for Tunisia describe continued fighting in and around the capital Tripoli. The Tunisian military has taken the lead in receiving the newcomers, placing them in resettlement camps near the border, and making arrangements for transfer to their home country.

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The upheaval in Libya has sent foreigners racing for the exit. More than 17,000 people have crossed Libya's western border and entered Tunisia in the last few days, according to Tunisian authorities. Most are men who were working in Libya.

NPR's Tom Gjelten has been at the border, talking to some of those who fled.

(Soundbite of a crowd)

TOM GJELTEN: They arrive at the Libyan border packed so tightly in cars that they're hanging out the windows, luggage stacked high on the roof. Or they come by bus. For all, it's been a harrowing ride.

Levant Gulalda is from Turkey. He was working in Tripoli as a civil engineer for a Turkish construction company.

Mr. LEVANT GULALDA (Civil Engineer): There was some fighting today.

GJELTEN: Between here and Tripoli?

Mr. GULALDA: From Tripoli, 50 kilometers.

GJELTEN: There was some fighting.

Mr. GULALDA: Yes. I heard some gunfire. Very bad situation. Road was closed. We went another way.

GJELTEN: The town he describes, 30 miles west of Tripoli, is Zawiya, where fierce clashes have been reported. Gulalda and others say Tripoli itself appears, for now, to be firmly under the control of forces loyal to Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi - at least during the day. At night is another story. Then, no one dares venture outside.

Once the refugees from Libya reach Tunisia, they have to figure out where to go next. Most are herded onto Tunisian buses waiting in the parking lot. Some go to the nearest airport. People with nowhere else to go are being housed in a refugee camp a few miles from the border established by the Tunisian military, where they receive food and shelter.

(Soundbite of clanking metal)

GJELTEN: About three dozen big tents have been set up so far. More are going up by the hour, including a dining facility.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GJELTEN: The Tunisia military have set up a mess tent here for these men who have just arrived from Libya. They are giving out their midday meals right now. Each man gets a plate with what looks like saffron rice, chicken, a kind of a potato-carrot mixture, an orange piece of bread, and a big bottle of water. Actually, it looks like a good meal.

About 300 people have arrived in the camp by midday. About 20 of them needed medical attention.

Dr. ASHISH BEKIR (Tunisian Army Doctor): Our station is a battalion aid station, composed - by one physician and four nurse. And we can receive five patients on bed.

GJELTEN: Tunisian Army Dr. Ashish Bekir says one woman arrived with fairly severe injuries from traumatic blows.

Dr. BEKIR: On the neck, on the arm, and on the leg.

GJELTEN: From what?

Dr. BEKIR: From traumatism(ph), of aggression.

GJELTEN: She was beaten.

Dr. BEKIR: Aggression.

GJELTEN: Was it Libyan police?

Dr. BEKIR: No, not police. She has been aggressed - by civilian.

GJELTEN: That woman's experience remains the prevailing story from Libya: abuse at the hands of pro-Gadhafi elements. Several people told me it's because the Gadhafi forces know they're finished in Libya and are lashing out. They insist Gadhafi cannot last indefinitely, but they are careful to stress the difficulty of confronting a regime that is still very well-armed.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, near the Libya-Tunisia border.

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