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Mass Libya evacuations as Qaddafi digs in

The United States has sent a ferry and planes to Libya's capital, and Turkey has already rescued 5,000 nationals – making it the biggest evacuation in Turkish history.

By Drew HinshawCorrespondent / February 23, 2011

Hundreds of Turkish workers wait to be evacuated at Benghazi port, Libya, Tuesday, Feb. 22. Governments scrambled by air and sea to pick up their citizens stranded by Libya's unrest, with thousands of Turks crowding into a stadium to await evacuation and Egyptians gathering at the border to escape the chaos.

Alaguri/AP

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Libya's mass expatriate exodus has begun, amid escalating violence as embattled leader Muammar Qaddafi employs mercenaries to prolong his spectacular, 41-year-show of autocracy and eccentricity.

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Turkey has already evacuated more than 5,000 nationals using only the airport in Tripoli, with further evacuations planned for the 25,000 Turks living in Libya – making it the biggest evacuation in Turkey's history, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said today, reported Bloomberg.

The United States, Russia, and China have all begun dispatching vessels to retrieve their citizens. Evacuating British citizens has become the top priority for its Foreign Office, said Prime Minister David Cameron, and the famed naval power has sent one of Her Majesty's ships to the coast. The BBC provides a breakdown of evacuation plans for 15 nations.

But Italy may face the most herculean task. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini expects more than 300,000 Libyans to flee in the weeks to come, just as thousands of Tunisians fled to islands off Italy in the security vacuum that followed their revolution in January.

"These are estimates, and on the low side," Mr. Frattini said in an interview published today, reported Reuters. "It is a biblical exodus."

According to the Associated Press, "Migrants were also pouring into Libya's land borders with Egypt and Tunisia on Wednesday."

Even as foreigners and locals exit, there are signs that Qaddafi may fall in "a matter of days," his former chief of protocol told French TV station Canal+.

"He's nervous, he's not in good health," Nuri al-Mismari said. "He's already used tanks, planes, mercenaries. What's left? Chemical weapons."

Soldiers are defecting in waves, pilots have refused orders to continue bombing demonstrators, the security and interior ministers have stepped down, and military units have stopped shooting in some places.

Many of the armed men who remain appear to be mercenaries, but reports vary on their origins. According to TIME, "Qatar-based al-Jazeera detailed pamphlets circulated to mercenary recruits from Guinea and Nigeria, offering them $2,000 per day to crack down on the Libyan uprising."

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, reports that Qaddafi "is employing Russian and Eastern European ‘white mercenaries’ at £18,000 [$29,000] a head to brutally crush protests in his desperate attempt to cling to power."

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