TRIPOLI: Libya is descending into a civil war spiral that is “much worse” than the unrest that toppled its dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, residents fleeing the country say.
“We have gone through [war] before, with Gaddafi, but now it’s much worse,” Paraskevi Athineou, a Greek woman living in Libya, said on Saturday. “Chaos reigns. There is no government, we have no food, no fuel, no water, no electricity for hours on end,” she said. Athineou was part of a group of 186 people evacuated from Tripoli by a Greek navy frigate which reached the port of Piraeus early on Saturday.
In addition to 77 Greek nationals, there were 78 Chinese, 10 Britons, 12 Cypriots, seven Belgians, one Albanian and a Russian. Among them were several diplomats, including the Chinese ambassador to Libya. Libya has suffered chronic insecurity since Gaddafi’s overthrow in 2011, with the new government unable to check militias that helped to remove him and facing a growing threat from Islamist groups.
“So many people died to make the country better. But now we started killing each other in a civil war,” said Osama Monsour, a 35-year-old employed at a non-governmental organisation in Tripoli. Fighting between rival militias in Tripoli has forced the closure of the city’s international airport, while Islamist groups are also battling army special forces in the eastern city of Benghazi.
“War is in the city ... and we civilians are under fire from both sides,” Athineou said. “It is worse than 2011,” said Ali Gariani, a Libyan married to a Greek woman. “That time were were being bombed by NATO. But now we are being bombed by the Libyans themselves, and that is really shameful,” he said. Britain will close its embassy in Tripoli from Monday due to the escalating violence, evacuating diplomatic staff to Tunisia, officials said.
Britain was one of the last western countries with an embassy open in Tripoli after two weeks of street fighting between rival militias forced the United States, the United Nations and European diplomatic staff to leave the country. “Reluctantly we’ve decided we have to leave and temporarily suspend embassy operations in Libya,” British Ambassador to Libya Michael Aron said on Twitter. “The risk of getting caught in the crossfire is too great.”
Meanwhile, Tunisia briefly reopened its main border crossing with Libya on Saturday, allowing some 200 people fleeing unrest to enter its territory, a day after violence prompted its closure.
Fifty vehicles with Libyan plates were seen crossing over the border into Tunisia over a period of about an hour in the morning, and some people carrying luggage did so on foot before the post was shut again.
A security official at the Ras Jedir checkpoint, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tunisia would alternate between opening and closing the crossing, without specifying why or at which intervals.
The authorities closed the crossing at midday on Friday after Libyan border guards fired warning shots to keep back a crowd of people trying to enter Tunisia in order to escape violence. The Tunisian government has urged its estimated 50,000 to 60,000 nationals in neighbouring Libya to leave “as soon as possible” because of violence that has raged there since mid-July.
Libya has suffered chronic insecurity since a revolt in 2011, with the government unable to check militias that helped to oust dictator Moamer Gathafi and facing a growing threat from Islamists. Fighting between rival militias in Tripoli has forced the closure of the city’s international airport, while Islamist militants are battling the armed forces in the eastern city of Benghazi. In the past week, many countries have ordered their citizens to leave and, in some cases, have evacuated them.
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