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Foreigners Flee As Violence Worsens In Libya


A delegation from Libya is also attending the African Leaders Summit. The U.S. visit comes as fighting in Libya has been getting worse over the last few weeks. More than 200 people have been killed. Over the weekend, Britain became the latest Western nation to shut down its embassy there. Libya's newly elected parliament held its first official session today. It's not clear how effective it can really be. Since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi two years ago, the country's been divided among hundreds of militias. I spoke with NPR's Leila Fadel about what's behind the resurgence in violence.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The thing about Libya is there's no centralized police or military force. So what the country has is vying militias - vying for power, for money, for weapons. And there's always been this sort of tenuous balance - sometimes violent, but a tenuous balance - until a rogue general declared war on Islamists in east months ago.

And that has created a unity among Islamist militias. And that's who's battling - vying factions, some claiming the banner of Islamism and others claiming the fight against extremism.

CORNISH: So what are the areas most affected by the fighting?

FADEL: The capital, Tripoli, and the second largest city in the country, Benghazi. So we're seeing huge battles for the airport - airplanes on fire, oil depots on fire. And then in the east, there is this battle between this rogue general and those allied with him, including the special forces and the Islamists. And the Islamists say, they've taken over that city now, and that they now control it.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, where's the international community on this, and what can they do at this point?

FADEL: Well, that's really the big question. The Libyan authorities are begging for international help. They really don't have any power to reign these militias in. And we shouldn't forget that it was international intervention that allowed rebel fighters to take out Gaddafi. And he was a brutal dictator, but what was left when he was gone is a country awash with weapons - rag-tag fighters with weapons, saying they won't put them down until the Libya they believe should be there exists. And of course, the idea of what Libya should be is different for each one of these militia groups.

Libyans really feel abandoned by the international community. They feel that they had that help in 2011 and then no help with state-building, no help with securing these weapons. And they still feel that way today, as diplomats are being evacuated out of Libya and Libyans are being left inside to deal with the repercussions of what's happening to their country.

CORNISH: So what does this mean for everyday people in Libya? How are they coping with this?

FADEL: Well, life isn't good. There's no power in the capital at all. You see thousands of people trying to get the Tunisian border because there's no flights out of the country now. And they can't really go east towards the Egyptian border because there's a huge battle in Benghazi, as well. So right now, they're living without power, without basic services. And if they can get across the border, they go there. That border has been sealed because of Egyptians and other foreign nationals who were trying to basically rush through because they didn't have the proper paperwork.

CORNISH: So help us understand how what's going on Libya plays out in relation to the rest of the Middle East, where people are seeing crisis after crisis in many other nations.

FADEL: Well, basically this crisis isn't going to affect Libya alone. There's a huge number of extremists within a country that are fighting in other countries. But also you have unsecured weapons - heavy weaponry - that are getting across the borders and into Egypt, into the Gaza Strip, into Syria. And really, there's nothing to protect those borders right now, and so it can exacerbate all of these crises.

CORNISH: Leila Fadel covers Libya as NPR's Cairo correspondent. Leila, thanks so much.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.