Governments struggle to evacuate their citizens from Libya

Reuters , Wednesday 23 Feb 2011

As the violence against protesters in Libya intensifies, countries move to bring their stranded citizens home

People waiting to be evacuated from Libya gather outside Tripoli airport (Reuters)

Governments around the world scrambled on Wednesday to send planes and ships to evacuate their citizens from turmoil in Libya, whose leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to crush a revolt against his 41-year rule.

Fears for the safety of foreigners were heightened after CNN-Turk news channel reported on its website that a Turkish worker had been shot dead at a building site near the capital Tripoli.

Turkey, with 25,000 citizens in Libya, is mounting the biggest evacuation operation in its history, and 21 other governments have asked Ankara for help getting their nationals out, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference.

Witnesses described scenes of chaos and panic as foreigners tried to escape the violence. Italy said estimates that 1,000 people had been killed in the unrest were credible.

"The time at the airport turned into a nightmare, fights began to break out. Everyone is frantic," said Adil Yasar, a Turk who arrived in Istanbul by plane late on Tuesday, adding he and fellow evacuees had gone without food and water at the airport for two days.

Some 3,000 Turks who found sanctuary in a soccer stadium in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising began, boarded ferry boats and set sail for home escorted by a Turkish navy frigate, while two French military planes brought 402 French nationals back to Paris.

"We are very happy it's over," one passenger told Reuters after arriving at Paris' Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport.

"It was very sudden. Five days ago, we felt really secure. One would not have said that the situation was going to degenerate so quickly."

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has warned Gaddafi's government against taking "cruel steps" to crush the uprising, and called on all sides to to ensure the security of foreigners.

Britain said on Tuesday it planned to send a charter plane to Libya to bring out Britons and was dispatching a Royal Navy frigate to waters off Libya in case it was needed. The United States said it would start evacuating U.S. citizens by ferry from Tripoli to Valletta, Malta.

Germany urged all its citizens to leave the country, as Chancellor Angela Merkel described as 'very frightening' Gaddafi's words that he was ready to die 'a martyr'.

Canada has also said it intends to evacuate its citizens.

With eastern regions breaking free of Gaddafi's rule and deadly unrest hitting the capital Tripoli, the Netherlands, Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Japan, Russia and Saudi Arabia also sent or were planning to send military and civilian planes for their nationals.

A Dutch military plane evacuated 82 people from Libya late on Tuesday, repatriating 32 Dutch citizens and 50 people from other countries, including Belgium, Britain and the United States, the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Wednesday.

The Netherlands is sending another military plane to Tripoli on Wednesday, the ministry said.

A Ukrainian Il-76 military cargo plane was on its way to Tripoli on Wednesday to pick up 170 Ukrainians, including doctors, pilots and engineers who are working on contracts there, the foreign ministry said.

Greek passenger ships headed to Libya to collect Europeans and some 15,000 Chinese, and bring them back via the island of Crete.

Amid increasing chaos, and resignations by top Libyan officials protesting against Gaddafi's crackdown, some flights had difficulty getting clearance to land or depart.

A Bosnian plane was awaiting permission from authorities in Tripoli to collect a first group from among some 1,500 citizens waiting to be evacuated, said Zoran Perkovic, the assistant foreign minister. Serbian planes were also awaiting clearance, Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac said.

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