Workers Flee Libya

Thousands of Chinese workers have been airlifted out of the chaos of a country on the brink of collapse.
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Chinese evacuees from Libya arrive on the Greek island of Crete, Feb. 24, 2011.
Chinese evacuees from Libya arrive on the Greek island of Crete, Feb. 24, 2011.

China continues to fly thousands of its nationals back home from the Middle East following unrest in Libya, where they had been working in oilfields and on railways, official media reported.

The overwhelming majority of Chinese citizens have now left Libya, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

"As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, China has altogether pulled out about 32,000 nationals from Libya, 9,000 of whom were back in China, roughly 21,000 were in a third country, while 2,100 were on their way back to a third country," the official Xinhua news agency reported, quoting the ministry.

A Chinese worker still in Libya on Monday described the capital Tripoli as being on "red alert" as the United States and other nations seek to force defiant Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to end his 41-year rule in the face of an uprising by fragmented groups of rebels.

Western nations have also been considering a no-fly zone over Libya.

"Right now, all we can do is stay home and wait for news from the Chinese Embassy," said the worker, identified only by his surname, Zhang.

"We will be evacuated any time now. Right now, the city is on red alert. I have been here for four or five years now, in Tripoli," he said.

"It is pretty scary right now, because the opposition forces are evenly matched with the government."

"We could be done for at any time if the opposition forces storm the city," Zhang said.

Waiting for a signal

He said that Chinese workers had spent the past few days huddled in their accommodation, waiting for the signal to evacuate from embassy officials.

"We heard [gunfire] a couple of days ago, and we were very frightened, but there was nothing we could do about it," he said.

"We have to stay home all day. The banks are closed and there aren't very many people on the streets."

He said the regime of Gadhafi seemed to him to be on the brink of collapse.

"The government seems only to be holding Tripoli," Zhang said.

"The east of the country near the Egyptian border is lost. The way I see it, personally, the government won't be able to hang on."

Fending off attackers

Thousands of Chinese were carried to the Greek island of Crete at the weekend aboard a chartered ferry, Xinhua reported.

Most were employees of the state-owned railway builder China Communication Constructions Engineering Company, it said.

The workers said their construction site, approximately 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the eastern port city of Benghazi, was repeatedly ransacked by unidentified gunmen.

The workers had defended themselves by digging ditches around their construction site to prevent vehicles from breaking in, and by fending off attackers with iron poles, they told Xinhua.

They had then made their escape by road after hearing about the evacuation program on satellite television, the agency said.

"China is about to finish its evacuation efforts in Libya's eastern and midwestern areas, while there are about 3,000 Chinese in the nation's southern part who will be evacuated either by China's military aircraft or foreign airlines," the foreign ministry statement said.

Those who were still currently sheltering in a third country would be brought home by passenger jets sent by Beijing, it added.

Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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