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2,800 Chinese evacuated from Libya to Crete

By Demetris Nellas

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 26 2011 6:55 a.m. MST

Evacuees from different countries queue to board a ship to be evacuate from Benghazi sea port, Libya, on Friday Feb. 25, 2011. Tens of thousands of foreigners are trying to flee Libya, with Turks and Chinese climbing aboard ships by the thousands. Europeans are mostly boarding evacuation flights while North Africans have been racing to border crossings in overcrowded vans.

Hussein Malla, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Thousands of evacuees from strife-torn Libya reached ports across the Mediterranean on Saturday, with thousands more still scrambling to flee the North African nation by sea, air or land.

More than 2,800 Chinese workers landed in Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete aboard a Greek ship Saturday. Further to the west, another 2,200 Chinese arrived in Valletta, the capital of Malta, on a ship from the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi. Hours earlier, in the dark of night, a U.S-chartered ferry dropped off over 300 passengers in Valletta after a voyage from Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

The sheer numbers of foreigners leaving Libya as Moammar Gadhafi's regime attacks anti-government protesters has been staggering. As of Saturday, at least 16,000 Chinese workers and 15,000 Turks had been evacuated, most working in the construction and oil industries.

In addition, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that some 22,000 people have fled across the Libyan border to Tunisia and another 15,000 crossed the border to Egypt.

"There are widespread reports of refugees being harassed and threatened with guns and knives," Ban said, adding that many people who managed to cross the border said their trip was "terrifying."

A State Department spokesman said Saturday that the United States had advised its citizens residing in Libya as early as Feb. 20 to depart and that it had ensured everyone was informed and assisted in leaving the country.

"We are unaware of large pockets of Americans who wished to evacuate but did not. However, we are aware that there may be Americans still in Libya that may need assistance departing the country," said Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley.

"We assisted Americans in departing on Dutch, British, Canadian, Turkish and other government sponsored evacuations," Crowley added.

At the harbor in Valletta, women holding babies and other passengers walked down a ramp to solid land after an eight-hour voyage across the choppy Mediterranean Sea.

"Oh, it was a long ordeal. We are glad it's over," said evacuee Sara Ali, a 30-year-old with dual Libyan-American citizenship. "We're just really tired and really happy to be out and safe."

The passengers had been stuck aboard the catamaran since Wednesday, but strong winds and high seas had prevented the ferry from leaving the Libyan capital Tripoli for three days.

"It was pretty uncomfortable just because of the delay," said Lucile Usielmerazcerna, an evacuee from Santa Cruz, California. "It was really rough waters coming over here, also having to stay in the dock for two or three days."

A group of 2,200 Chinese arrived in Malta's Valletta port on a ship from Benghazi Saturday morning. They are expected to go to the airport and board flights back home, according to Maltese authorities.

A Boeing 737 charter flight with 148 seats — likely the last flight organized by the British government — is due to arrive in Tripoli Saturday afternoon and will return to London later in the day. All Britons remaining in Tripoli have been urged to board the plane.

"The security situation at the airport has been deteriorating in recent hours and the route to the airport is becoming more precarious," the Foreign Office said.

Also Saturday, Britain is chartering a plane from Valletta's airport to bring home a group of Britons.

In Crete, the Chinese government chartered four ferries and 11 hotels, and was having special flights to China later Saturday aboard two Air China jumbo jets.

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