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Chaos in Libya forces Americans to flee, lifts gas prices

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | 12:52 p.m. CST; updated 9:43 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ANKARA, Turkey — Hundreds of Americans climbed aboard a ferry Wednesday to escape the turmoil in Libya, part of a vast exodus of foreigners fleeing by ship, plane or van. Tripoli's airport was overwhelmed with stranded people seeking a way out.

More than a dozen countries — including Russia, China, Germany and Ukraine — sent planes in to help their people escape an increasingly unstable situation.

"The airport was mobbed — you wouldn't believe the number of people," said Kathleen Burnett, of Baltimore, Ohio, as she stepped off a flight from Tripoli to Vienna. "It was total chaos."

Unease over the safety of U.S. citizens intensified after failed attempts earlier this week to get them out. On Wednesday afternoon U.S. citizens climbed aboard a 600-passenger ferry at Tripoli's As-shahab port for a five-hour journey to Malta, a Mediterranean island south of Italy.

Migrants were also pouring across Libya's land borders with Egypt and Tunisia on Wednesday. Vans piled high with luggage and furniture lined up at the Salloum border crossing with Egypt.

Jemini Pandya, a spokeswoman for the United Nations migration agency, said thousands of migrants were fleeing Libya.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has urged his supporters to strike back against Libyan pro-democracy protesters, escalating a crackdown that has led to widespread shooting in the streets. Nearly 300 people have been killed in the nationwide wave of anti-government protests — and possibly many more.

Libya is one of the world's biggest oil producers — responsible for nearly 2 percent of the world's oil — and many oil companies were evacuating their expatriate workers and families.

The U.S. imported only about 51,000 barrels per day from Libya, less than 1 percent of its total crude imports. The production losses will be felt mostly in Europe. Ireland relies on Libya for 23 percent of its oil imports and 22 percent of Italy's oil imports are from Libya.

Oil prices rose past $99 a barrel on Wednesday as forces loyal to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi clashed with protesters expanding their control over parts of the country.

Analysts expect that amount could rise further, especially if unrest affects oil production in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, said he expects gasoline prices will continue to rise in the next few months to a spring peak of between $3.25 and $3.75 per gallon.

Analyst Jim Ritterbusch with Ritterbusch and Associates doubts that the national average will climb to $4 a gallon or higher, but he said it is difficult to predict because of the rapidly changing Middle East situation.

 


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