Tunisia feels the crush from Libyan refugees

TUNIS — Up to 6,000 people a day have fled Libya into neighboring Tunisia this week, the Tunisian foreign minister said Wednesday, the biggest influx since Libya’s 2011 civil war in a sign of the spiraling turmoil as rival militias battle over control of the airport in the capital, Tripoli.

The weeks-long fighting is the worst violence in the Libyan capital since the war. Nearly 100 people have been killed, 400 wounded, and much of the airport has been destroyed. A giant fire has been raging the past three days after shelling hit airport oil depots, forcing residents to evacuate, with firefighters largely unable to put it down because of clashes.

Many diplomats, including the US ambassador, have pulled out of the country. Fighting threatens the planned opening session of the newly elected Parliament on Aug. 4.


The violence is the latest chaos in a country where the central government, military, and security forces have had no control since the ouster of Moammar Khadafy in the 2011 civil war. Instead, rival militias have filled the void with varying loyalties to local commanders, some with Islamist ideologies, while on the political front Islamist politicians and their opponents wrangle for control.

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Foreign Minister Monji Hamdi said that Libyans were coming at a rate of 5,000 to 6,000 a day and that the rate was increasing. He said Tunisia cannot absorb large numbers of refugees and warned his government could close the border.

‘‘Our absolute priority is the security and stability of Tunisia,’’ he told reporters in Tunis.

Opponents accuse the Islamists of using militias sympathetic to them to try to consolidate their grip over the country after losing elections. Islamists, in turn, accuse their opponents of using militias to crush democracy over the past year.