SALUM, Egypt (Reuters) - Minibuses packed with Egyptian workers and belongings piled high on the roofracks crossed into Egypt from Libya on Wednesday after a revolt that triggered political and economic turmoil in the oil producer.
Some Egyptians fled for fear of more violence after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in power since 1969, vowed to crush a revolt that may have left as many as 1,000 people dead, according to an Italian estimate of deaths.
“I fled. Gaddafi is killing the people, why should I stay? We will die if we stay. He gave the people 24 hours to stop the protesters,” said Mahmoud Hadiya, 28, a builder who has been working for 18 months in the OPEC member.
“I packed my bags as soon as his speech was over. To die in our country is better than to die there. I will try to find a job in Egypt,” he said referring to Gaddafi’s defiant speech on Tuesday evening.
Gaddafi has lost control of a chunk of the country, at least stretching from the Egyptian border to Benghazi, which is more than 500 km (310 miles) away. Most of Libya’s oil is produced from fields south of Benghazi.
“I never saw anything like this in my life. I saw so much terrible violence, so much blood since Thursday. I saw hundreds of dead. If you go to the hospital you will not believe your eyes,” said Ali Ahmed Ali, 53, an Egyptian construction worker who had been employed in Benghazi.
Egypt, where about 40 percent of the population live on $2 or less a day, relies heavily on remittances from its nationals working abroad, particularly those working in Arab oil producing countries like Libya and the Gulf states.
“After the protests, the owners of the companies and engineers left. Thieves came to steal the company cars and they began beating us. I worked three months and I’ve not been paid as the company was closed,” said the worker, Ali, who is from Assiut in southern Egypt.
“Last night there was the sound of shooting across Benghazi after Gaddafi’s speech,” he said. “I left at 3 a.m., taking nothing with me, no money, no belongings.”
Writing by Edmund Blair in Cairo; editing by Caroline Drees and Elizabeth Fullerton