Manitoba·Updated

Libya unrest sends Winnipeg woman fleeing

A Winnipeg family has received word that their daughter, who was fleeing the violence in Libya, has been safely airlifted out of the country.
Anti-government protesters rally in Benghazi, Libya, in recent days as Canada on Monday condemned the violent crackdown by security forces. ((Associated Press))

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  • Suncor workers airlifted from Libya to Malta

A Winnipeg family has received word that their daughter, who was fleeing the violence in Libya, has been safely airlifted out of the country.

Elizabeth Atkinson, a structural geophysicist with Suncor Energy, the parent company of Petro-Canada, was working in the country when violent, anti-government unrest broke out six days ago.

"She and her partner are safe and sound in Malta," said Atkinson's mother, Betty, who received a voicemail message from her daughter on Monday.

"The news is very reassuring," added Atkinson's dad, Barrie.

Until getting the message on Monday, Atkinson's family only knew that her employer had plans to evacuate from the region.

Atkinson had been keeping in touch with her family by email until internet acess was cut on Saturday. She then left a phone message for her parents on the weekend, trying to reassure them.

"Unfortunately, things have changed quite a bit from when I emailed you and things are, um, a problem here now, and Petro-Canada has decided a few hours ago that they are evacuating us," she said in the message.

Atkinson's then said she was staying in a compound for Canadian expatriates in Libya until a flight could be arranged.

"So I don't want you guys to panic but I just want you to know this is happening, and I also want you to know that we are now gone to an ex-pat compound. We are no longer living out in the community," the message stated.

Atkinson and others were then airlifted on Monday and taken to the island of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily, according to her parents.

Requests from CBC News for an interview with Suncor have not been immediately returned.

The company sent an email Monday morning, stating it has contingency plans for all its foreign locations. However, details were withheld in the interest of employees' security.

6 days of violence

Six days of clashes between protesters and security forces in Libya, calling for the ouster of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, have led to at least 200 deaths, according to medical officials, human rights groups and exiled dissidents.

Anti-government protesters assist an injured fellow protester during clashes with government supporters in Sanaa, Yemen, on Thursday. ((Ammar Awad/Reuters))

On Monday, protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time.

One of Gadhafi's sons, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, vowed that his father and security forces would fight "until the last bullet."

Canadian contacts:

Friends and relatives in Canada seeking information on Canadian citizens believed to be affected by the unrest in Libya should contact the Emergency Operations Centre at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada by calling, toll-free, 1-800-387-3124, or sending an email to sos@international.gc.ca.

Canadian citizens in Libya requiring emergency consular assistance should contact the Canadian Embassy in Tripoli at 218 (21) 335-1633, or call Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada Emergency Operations Centre collect at 613-996-8885. An email can also be sent to sos@international.gc.ca.

Gadhafi's regime has unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.

Tarek Bader, a Libyan now living in Winnipeg, says it's hard for Canadians to fathom what the protesters are fighting for.

"Believe it or not, we wish over there [that] we had, like animals' rights as here [in Canada]," he said. "We don't, believe me, we don't have these rights."

Bader, who fled the Gadhafi regime six years ago, said he once thought change in his home country would be impossible.

Now he is anxiously watching the protests and is optimistic it will end Gadhafi's 42-year rule.

"Enough is enough and we can't really handle it any more," Bader said.

"I wish I was part of this back home, but unfortunately I am here right now."

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