Libyans have been protesting against the government for two weeks, with reports of at least 300 deaths [Reuters]

Britain has redeployed a warship, the HMS Cumberland, off the Libyan coast in readiness for a possible sea-borne evacuation of British citizens stuck in the north African country.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said on Tuesday that his country was also seeking to send a charter flight to Libya but the aircraft had yet to receive the necessary permission to land.

"We are working closely with airlines to assist as many British nationals as possible to depart Libya ... We are making arrangements for a charter plane to travel to Libya in the next 48 hours," Hague said.

"We are urgently seeking landing clearances and permissions from the Libyan government and in support of this we will send a rapid deployment team of foreign office officials to assist British nationals."

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, said on Tuesday that he would not step down despite a nationwide revolt against his rule in which 300 people are reported to have been killed.

British Airways said it had cancelled its daily return flight from Britain to the Libyan capital,Tripoli, for Tuesday and Wednesday and bmi, a subsidiary of Germany's Lufthansa, said it had cancelled its return flight on Tuesday.

Hague said British nationals seeking to leave Libya had encountered significant difficulties this week.

"Many are currently in Tripoli airport without immediate flights out of the country," he said, following flight cancellations and closures of airspace.

Hague said the situation in Libya was worsening and there were "many indications of the structure of the state collapsing in many ways in Libya".

"The resignation of so many ambassadors and diplomats, reports of ministers changing sides within Libya itself, shows the system is in a very serious crisis," he said.

Turkish evacuation

Besides the British warship, two civilian ferries from Turkey and one military ship were expected to arrive in the hard-hit eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday to evacuate about 3,000 Turkish citizens after the country was unable to get permission to land at the city's airport.

Cemil Cicek, Turkey's deputy prime minister, said the ferries could help evacuate up to 6,000 people per day, if Libyan authorities allowed the vessels to dock at Benghazi.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the country's foreign minister, said 10 other countries had also asked for help from Turkey to evacuate their citizens, though he did not identify them.

"Our priority is to evacuate our citizens. We call on Libyan authorities to be sensitive towards the safety of foreigners,'' Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turksih prime minister, said, urging the Libyan authorities not to use violence.

Meanwhile, about 5,000 Egyptians have returned home from Libya by land and about 10,000 more are waiting to cross the Libya-Egypt border, an Egyptian security official said.

Egypt says it will also send six commercial and two military planes to repatriate thousands more caught in the revolt.

Some people were still getting out on regularly scheduled flights, but many countries were sending planes to fetch their citizens, with Serbia, Russia, the Netherlands and France reporting they had permission to land in Tripoli.

"The situation is very variable and our basic issue is who is in control of what in the country so that our landing and overflight requests are answered,'' Dimitris Dollis, Greek deputy foreign minister, said.

Greek officials later said the country was ready to evacuate 15,000 Chinese nationals by transferring them by merchant ships to the Greek island of Crete.

In addition to the continuing commercial Alitalia flights, Italy was prepared to mobilise four to five C-130 aircraft, navy ships and, if necessary, even military troops to help with any possible evacuation of Italians, said Ignazio La Russa, the defence minister.

Source: Agencies