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Liberia Remains Under State of Emergency

Liberia remains under a state of emergency, following what the government and rebels say was an escalation of fighting near the capital, Monrovia. Thousands of people are reported to be fleeing the country, and the government has announced it will require all travelers to obtain exit visas starting on Thursday.

Residents in Monrovia described the city as calm, but tense. Witnesses say people lined up at banks, where they were getting wire transfers from relatives abroad so they could leave the country.

Some are going by air, but most are going by land. The U.N. refugee agency says some refugees have crossed the border into Sierra Leone, others are heading for Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The exit visa requirement is the latest measure of the state of emergency declared Friday by the government of President Charles Taylor, following reports that rebel forces had taken the town of Klay, about 40 kilometers from Monrovia. The government says its forces now have the town under their control.

Liberia's Ministry of Information this week ordered all groups and journalists not to comment on the state of emergency unless they first obtained clearance from authorities.

Police arrested three journalists Tuesday after their newspaper, The Analyst of Monrovia, published reports that challenged President Taylor's decision to declare a state of emergency. The three were set free late Tuesday after police questioned them for several hours.

Liberian authorities say arrests would continue as part of an effort to root out supporters of the insurgents, who the government refers to as "terrorists." Unconfirmed media reports say those arrested have included some "minors".

When asked whether the reports were true, Information Minister Reginald Goodridge says he could not confirm or deny them.

"I do not know who they refer to as 'minors,'" he said. "The government made it quite clear through radio announcements that there were going to be some raids in congested parts of the city where there might have been sleeper cells, or suspected sleeper cells, of terrorists."

President Charles Taylor is due to go before the National Assembly on Thursday to lay out the reasons for his decision to declare a state of emergency. He is not expected to face opposition from lawmakers. The legislative body is controlled by members of his National Patriotic Party.

Government officials say the state of emergency would remain in place until the threat to national security is removed.

Rebels with the group known as Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy have been fighting to overthrow President Taylor for nearly two years. The Taylor government accuses neighboring Guinea of supporting the group, an accusation Guinea denies.