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Libyan Rebels, Gadhafi’s Forces Battle as Refugees Swarm Border Crossings

March 1, 2011 at 6:03 PM EST
Pro-government militias loyal to Moammar Gadhafi continued to battle Libyan rebels as more refugees fled to borders with Tunisia and Egypt, sparking fears of a humanitarian crisis. Alex Thomson and Bill Neely of Independent Television News report on the latest developments in Libya and neighboring nations.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: More and more refugees crowded Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt today. The U.N. estimated that 140,000 people, most of them foreigners, have fled the violence inside Libya. And Tunisian guards at a main crossing point fired into the air at times today, as they strained to maintain order.

We have a report on the Tunisian border from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

ALEX THOMSON: Desperate to get into Tunisia, and for some, the wait is too much, manhandled over the frontier wall into the hands of the medics.

On the wall, they kick them, they hit them, but still plenty get through, which Tunisia is allowing, but one by one. Only at this rate, the Tunisian officials process them into the country.

ABEER ETEFA, World Food Program: It’s been working very well so far. Everyone is getting a meal. We also have high-energy biscuits, 80 pounds that just arrived.

ALEX THOMSON: For those stuck the other side of the frontier wall, there is bread thrown, water to follow. And all the while from their tinted windows, the border guards loyal to Col. Gadhafi looked on.

Inside Tunisia, there is immediate medical help for those in need, and there is more food, plenty of it. The queues are long, but they’re patient. It’s a logistics crisis, a chronic shortage of buses to get these people on their way, and an hour south at Djerba Airport, a shortage of planes.

ABEER ETEFA: I think the main problem is how do you get people out of there?

ALEX THOMSON: Yes.

ABEER ETEFA: And I think this is where we — we are appealing to the international, you know, community, to get together to…

ALEX THOMSON: You need transport.

ABEER ETEFA: … to transport — these people back home. I think this is the problem so far.

ALEX THOMSON: Overnight, scores of tents sprouted in the desert scrub, courtesy of the United Nations. They’re building more, they hope, to cope with up to 20,000 people unable to move on because of the bottleneck.

Everyone has got a different story. For these Chinese workers, it’s a few days’ break in the luxury hotel. But back at the border, 70,000 less fortunate individuals have arrived in recent days and tonight unconfirmed reports that Col. Gadhafi’s forces have shut the frontier on their side.

JEFFREY BROWN: To the east, there were also growing concerns along the Egyptian border. Hundreds of people waited at a town just inside Egypt, hoping to get onto buses. And a relief group organized a convoy of cars to bring in food for the evacuees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A tense calm prevailed today in Tripoli, where Moammar Gadhafi remains in control.

We get that part of the story from Bill Neely of Independent Television News in the Libyan capital.

BILL NEELY: Col. Gadhafi swept to power behind a phalanx of tanks. He knows their worth. He has now repositioned them around Tripoli. Anyone who tries to take the city will have to take on a lot of hardware and hard men.

These tanks encircle Tripoli, four battalions, more than 200 tanks in all, more than enough to defend the capital. The worry for Gadhafi is the loyalty of their commanders. He, after all, came to power in a military coup. His armies of paramilitaries, militias run by his sons, regular troops, and special forces make him impregnable, as long as they remain loyal.

He can lose, though. He has lost Zawiyah, 30 miles from Tripoli, and two attacks by his men in the last two days have failed. The rebels there defy him still.

MAN: In the last years, we can’t do anything. He control everything. He control the weapons. He control the people. We can’t breathe.

MAN: He killed everything. He attacked a mosque. Gadhafi not a Muslim, Gadhafi not the people, and Gadhafi not human.

BILL NEELY: These men say Gadhafi’s officials were injured by gunfire from protesters, civil servants, a lorry driver, a policeman all shot in Tripoli, they say, by opponents of Gadhafi. Tripoli and its suburbs are tense, ringed by checkpoints, and in the sights of the rebels.

From Tripoli today, Col. Gadhafi sends an aid convoy to Libya’s second city, Benghazi, which is already in the hands of rebels — food and medicines from the dictator they are now threatening to attack but are a long way from overthrowing.