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Foreign workers flee Misrata violence

Benghazi, April 18 (Reuters): A chartered ship evacuated nearly 1,000 foreign workers and wounded Libyans from Misrata today as government artillery bombarded the besieged city that now symbolises the struggle against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule.

“We wanted to be able to take more people out but it was not possible,” said Jeremy Haslam, who led the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) rescue mission.

“Although the exchange of fire subsided while we were boarding ... we had a very limited time to get the migrants and Libyans on board the ship and then leave.”

A rebel spokesman said four civilians were killed and five wounded by government shellfire which pounded Misrata for a fifth day today. He raised yesterday’s death toll to 25, mostly civilians, because several of the wounded had died, and said about 100 had been wounded.

Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata is the rebels’ main stronghold in the west and has been under siege by pro-Gaddafi forces for the past seven weeks. Evacuees say conditions there are becoming increasingly desperate and hundreds of civilians are believed to have been killed.

“The Gaddafi forces are shelling Misrata now. They are firing rockets and artillery rounds on the eastern side — the Nakl el Theqeel (road) and the residential areas around it,” Abdubasset Abu Mzeireq said this morning.

The Ionian Spirit steamed out of Misrata carrying 971 people, most of them weak and dehydrated migrants mainly from Ghana, the Philippines and Ukraine, heading for the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

It was second vessel chartered by the IOM, which took out nearly 1,200 migrants from Misrata last Friday. Among the rescued group were 100 Libyans, including a child shot in the face, the IOM said in a statement.

“We have a very, very small window to get everyone out. We do not have the luxury of having days, but hours,” said IOM West Asia representative Pasquale Lupoli.

“Every hour counts and the migrants still in Misrata cannot survive much longer like this.”

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