Relief as journalists freed from Tripoli hotel

Foreign journalists in protective gear climb the stair at the Rixos hotel where they were confined.
Foreign journalists in protective gear climb the stair at the Rixos hotel where they were confined.

By Ian Dunt

There was widespread relief today after a group of international journalists were freed from a hotel in the heart of Gaddafi-controlled Tripoli.

About 35 foreign correspondents were being held at the hotel, with fears deepening about food and water supplies and the intention of their armed guards.

The Red Cross was allowed to collect the journalists and remove them from the area, however, after considerable international pressure.

"It's been an absolute nightmare for all of us," CNN's Matthew Chance told his network.

"We have been living in fear for the last five days being held against our will by these crazy gunmen. One of them shouted up to me yesterday: 'I suppose you are happy now that Libyans are killing Libyans'.

"There have been ferocious battles outside the Rixos hotel ... In the end it seemed to us we were trapped in last pocket of Gaddafi's control."

Sky News engineer Jude Burrows-Seaby said: "We were down to a day's worth of water. None of us has eaten much since Saturday."

Earlier today, British foreign secretary William Hague said he was personally monitoring the situation hour-by-hour.

"We're concerned about their safety. We're doing what we can to help, talking to [rebel organisation] the National Transitional Council (NTC) - although they're not in control of that area."

The Rixos hotel, where the regime insisted reporters stay during the conflict, is in the heart of one of the areas of Tripoli still controlled by Gaddafi.

Analysts were concerned the situation could develop to the point where special forces might have to enter Tripoli to extract the journalists.

Journalists in the hotel regularly had to seek safety in the basement as mortar fire pummels the area around them.

"It's a desperate situation for about 35 foreign nationals here, Brits, Americans... there's a US congressman here, there's an Indian parliamentarian here," BBC correspondent Matthew Price told the Today programme.

"The situation deteriorated massively overnight when it became clear that we were unable to leave the hotel of our own free will.

"Gunmen were roaming around the corridors. We believe there are still snipers on the roof of the hotel and effectively our movements are curtailed."

He added: "There is a huge amount of apprehension and nervousness."

Senior journalists from the BBC and CNN confirmed they had been released from the hotel at 16:39 local time.


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