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Ports overflow with evacuees from Libya

Last Updated 2:50 p.m. ET

ATHENS, Greece - Mediterranean ports overflowed with thousands of evacuees from strife-torn Libya on Saturday, and thousands more foreigners were still scrambling to flee the North African nation by sea, air or land.

British officials said security around the airport in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, was deteriorating rapidly and urged its citizens to leave.

Two U.K. military planes entered Libyan air space and rescued more than 150 civilians from desert locations south of Benghazi.

Defense Minister Liam Fox said Saturday the C-130 Hercules planes, carrying Britons and other nationals, safely landed in Malta.

The Royal Air Force rescue mission was bold because few planes have been able to fly through Libyan air space. It was not immediately clear if it was a British special forces mission, but the SAS has been on stand by for an evacuation mission of those stuck in oil fields, according to U.K. media reports.

More than 2,800 Chinese workers landed Saturday in Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete aboard a Greek ship. Further to the west, another 2,200 Chinese arrived in Valletta, the capital of Malta, after a long journey from the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi. Hours earlier, in the dark of night, a U.S-chartered ferry dropped off over 300 passengers in Valletta who spent three days waiting to leave Libya's chaotic capital.

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The sheer numbers of foreigners leaving Libya as Muammar Qaddafi's regime attacks anti-government protesters has been staggering. As of Saturday, at least 16,000 Chinese, 15,000 Turks and 1,400 Italians had been evacuated, most working in the construction and oil industries.

In addition, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that some 22,000 people have fled across the Libyan border to Tunisia and another 15,000 crossed the border into Egypt.

"There are widespread reports of refugees being harassed and threatened with guns and knives," Ban said, adding that many who managed to cross the border said their trips were "terrifying."

The Chinese who arrived in Valletta immediately headed to the airport to board flights back home, according to Maltese authorities.

Earlier in Valletta, women holding babies and other passengers walked down a ramp to solid land after an eight-hour voyage across the choppy Mediterranean Sea.

"Oh, it was a long ordeal. We are glad it's over," said evacuee Sara Ali, a 30-year-old with dual Libyan-American citizenship. "We're just really tired and really happy to be out and safe."

The passengers had been stuck aboard the catamaran ferry since Wednesday, blocked by strong winds and high seas from leaving Tripoli.

"It was pretty uncomfortable just because of the delay," said Lucile Usielmerazcerna, an evacuee from Santa Cruz, California. "It was really rough waters coming over here, also having to stay in the dock for two or three days."

Diane Harris teaches first grade at the American school. For her, the Libyan revolution is more than history - it hits home, CBS News senior correspondent Harry Smith reported Friday.

"We've only been there since August, but just had fallen in love with the place and had incredible places to teach, and to live. It was just beautiful. So I hope we can go back," Harris said. "We'll know day by day what can happen. It's ripping our hearts."

Evacuees: Lucky to be out, missing what they left

Americans living in Libya were told as early as Feb. 20 to depart and were given help leaving the country, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Saturday.

"We are unaware of large pockets of Americans who wished to evacuate but did not. However, we are aware that there may be Americans still in Libya that may need assistance departing," said Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley.

He said Americans left on Dutch, British, Canadian, Turkish and other government-sponsored evacuations.

In Crete, the Chinese government chartered four ferries and 11 hotels, and was having special flights to China on Saturday aboard two Air China jumbo jets.

Two more Greek ships left Benghazi on Saturday, one headed for the port of Piraeus with 400 evacuees and another, carrying mostly Chinese nationals, for Heraklion. A third ferry, also carrying mostly Chinese nationals, was still docked in Benghazi and huge lines of workers were snaking their way on board.

Since it takes up to 13 hours to travel between Benghazi and Heraklion, some 4,200 people were expected to arrive Sunday in Crete, port authorities and shipping agents said.

Local media reports in Crete said the Philippines government has also expressed an interest in evacuated 4,500 of its citizens in Libya to Crete.

A Turkish navy frigate, the TCG Orucreis, and a navy personnel carrier, the TCG Iskenderun, left Benghazi early Saturday, carrying 1,221 Turks and 517 other nationals, including Vietnamese and Bosnians. The ships were expected to reach Marmaris, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, on Monday.

Twelve Turkish C-130 and C-160 military transport planes, meanwhile, continued to airlift hundreds more Turks from Tripoli, and a Turkish Airlines plane brough in 2 tons of food for the embassy to hand out to Turks still stranded in Libya.

Italy said about 25 Italians were stuck in Amal, in southern Libya, while 150 employees of an Italian company remained stranded for a second day at the border with Tunisia.

Enrico Giurelli, captain of Italy's San Giorgio military ship, which set sail Friday carrying 250 people, mostly Europeans, said the passengers were in good condition and the ship would arrive in Catania, Sicily, on Sunday.

About 300 Serbs were still waiting in the central Libyan port city of Ras Lanuf, a major oil refining center, for a ship to pick them up. Serbia also sent a plane Saturday morning to pick up 52 Serbians from Sabha, in southwestern Libya.

Some 100 Croats were expected to arrive home Saturday evening after being evacuated.

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