Witnesses say hundreds trying to flee Libya

 

Foreigners arriving in Italy from Libya today spoke of all-night gunfire, shadowy security men on the streets of Tripoli and hundreds of people at the airport trying to escape the growing violence.

"People are fighting each other in the streets, it's a civil war," said Zoran Siljak, a Serbian paint factory worker who had just landed at Rome Fiumicino Airport from Tripoli. "There are plain-clothed security men with guns at street corners, people queuing up at petrol stations, we heard machineguns shooting all night and everybody said tonight it's going to be worse," he said.

He added that when he arrived at Tripoli airport he found about 1,000 people, mostly foreigners, trying to leave.

"Everything was calm until Sunday, then it all changed in 24 hours. It's not safe at all," he said.

Meanwhile, thousands of Turkish workers awaiting evacuation from Libya took refuge in a soccer stadium in the eastern city of Benghazi from where they heard gunfire and explosions through the night, witnesses said.

Sertac Karan, an executive with Turkish firm Arsel Construction, told Reuters by telephone from the stadium near Benghazi airport: "After funeral prayers we can hear firefights and explosions. It's totally out of control, we see 15- and 16-year-olds carrying Kalashnikovs."

About 3,500 Turks were waiting for evacuation at the stadium, said Karan, who arrived three days earlier after the company's sites were ransacked.

Members of the security forces changed out of uniform and joined protests to avoid being attacked by protesters, he said. water is running low," Yentur told Reuters by telephone from Libya.

The four-decade-old rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy has been shaken by days of violent protests which reached the capital on Monday, when dozens were killed by security forces.

"The airport was full of people trying to leave, the tension was very high, people are very worried," said Renato Pennino, an Italian archaeological site worker in Libya.

"We should have left yesterday. Last night it started feeling that it might already be too late, I think we felt we had reached the limit."

Italy's military airports were put on maximum alert in connection with the situation in Libya, Defence Ministry sources said, after two Libyan fighter planes and two civilian helicopters landed unexpectedly in Malta earlier today. The reason for the alert was not immediately clear.

About 1,500 Italians live in the former Italian colony, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

Agencies