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Evacuations begin for Americans in Libya

February 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The U.S. government on Wednesday began a major operation to evacuate Americans from Libya. They will be taken by ferry to the island of Malta in the Mediterranean.

Westerners had already started streaming out of Libya. Some had arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, on a flight from Libya's capital city of Tripoli.

"It was chaotic at the airport, but other than that we got through," said American evacuee Dede Blackburn. "We're just thankful to be here."

During a furious speech on state TV on Tuesday, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed to fight protesters demanding that he resign, and said he would die a "martyr."

Gadhafi shouted and pounded his fist during the speech, delivered from the entrance of a bombed out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence hit by U.S. airstrikes in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.

"Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world," he said. "I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents."

People are hiding out in their homes in Tripoli following warnings that anyone found on the streets would be shot. Scores of bodies are said to be lining the streets.

The violence has Libyan diplomats pleading with the international community for help.

"I urge all countries to raise their voices and say directly to Colonel Gadhafi and his regime to stop killing the Libyan people," said Ibrahim Dabbashi, deputy Libyan ambassador to the U.N.

European countries are in the process of evacuating their citizens. Italy and Russia on Tuesday were sending planes, and Turkey has several ships on the way.

Meanwhile, about 5,000 Egyptians have returned home from Libya by land and about 10,000 more are waiting to cross the Libya-Egypt border, an Egyptian security official said. Egypt says it will also send six commercial and two military planes to repatriate thousands more caught in the revolt against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

Libya is one of the world's biggest oil producers, and many oil companies were also evacuating their expat workers and their families.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.