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Chaos in Tripoli as thousands try to flee

The government of Muammar Qaddafi appears to remain in control in Libya's capital, according to a CBS News journalist in Tripoli, but the situation at the airport is "chaotic" as people seek to get out of the country.

Speaking on the phone from Tripoli, CBS News' Ben Plesser - the first American journalist to make it into the capital this morning - said the city is "pretty much abandoned," while tanks and riot police are everywhere.

"There are no pedestrians on the streets. There's very thin traffic on the roads. People are clearly staying off the streets," he told "Early Show" anchor Erica Hill. Businesses are shut.

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Plesser, who was in Cairo during the Egyptian unrest, said the situation is much different in Libya today.

"At the moment, the feeling very much where I am in Tripoli is that the government has the situation under control," he said. "There are checkpoints everywhere, there are police officers, they checked our IDs several times on the way from the airport. We are obviously being escorted everywhere by agents of the government, who make sure we only see what they would like us to see.

"So, to that degree - unlike in Egypt - the government has control of the situation, and people - at least in Tripoli - are not able to go out and express themselves," Plesser said.

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He described the situation at Tripoli's airport as "to say the least, chaotic. There are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people packed into the terminal, mostly foreign workers. They're Egyptians, they're Turks, they're from Southeast Asia. Every once in a while you see a western face.

"They are living on the floor, wrapped in dirty blankets, they've been there for days. And they're the lucky ones, because they have a roof over their heads," he said.

Plesser said airport workers were wearing face masks due to concerns about infectious diseases, because no one has had access to facilities or showers, and are living off of whatever scraps or trash they can find. "And these people are basically the lucky ones," Plesser said.

"Outside the terminal, there are thousands more people trying to inch their way into the terminal. There are policemen with sticks and whips keeping them in line, keeping them away from the terminal doors. There are fights breaking out. They're living in the trash from days of sitting outside the terminal, just waiting for an opportunity to get out of the country."

Plesser said his handlers prevented him from speaking to the people trying to leave Libya.

"We were ferried right out of there, and they were very anxious to make sure that I don't get any pictures of what I was seeing," Plesser said. "But the looks on the people's faces were horrified. These people that are stuck here, they're being watched over by guards who beat them with sticks and with ropes. There are armed army officers standing outside the airport. And these people have no idea when they're getting out or how they're going to get out. They're clearly desperate. They're willing to do anything just to get out of this country."

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