Mass evacuations under way in Libya

Governments scramble ships and aircraft to pick up citizens stranded amid violent unrest in the North African nation.

    Some European planes have not yet received the necessary permission to land in Tripoli [Reuters]

    Governments around the world have dispatched aircraft and ships to Libya in order to evacuate citizens trapped amid ongoing unrest.

    Two Turkish ships evacuated 3,000 nationals on Wednesday and are expected to reach the Mediterranean port of Marmaris late on Wednesday, while a ferry chartered by the United States arrived at a designated port in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.


    European Union states are working to evacuate some 10,000 citizens in Libya, with Britain, France, Spain, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia and the Netherlands, among others, scrambling planes and ships to the country.

    Asian nations also face the mammoth task of rescuing at least 150,000 low-paid workers from the country, reports say.

    Earlier Greek officials said their country was ready to evacuate 15,000 Chinese nationals by transferring them by merchant ships to the island of Crete, and Cemil Cicek, Turkey's deputy prime minister, said their ferries could help evacuate up to 6,000 people per day, if Libyan authorities allowed the vessels to dock at the eastern city of Benghazi.

    Ahmet Davutoglu, the country's foreign minister, said 10 countries had asked for help from Turkey to evacuate their citizens, but 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 Turkish prime minister, said, urging the Libyan authorities not to use violence.

    Frustrating delays

    However, those stuck on the ground have spoken of their frustration at delays in being evacuated from Libya. James Coyle, a British oil worker in Libya, told the BBC he felt "ignored" by his government.

    "We phoned them and told them the situation three days ago, and they never went back to us, we've been left without any protection whatsoever."

    William Hague, the British foreign minister, said 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.

    Egyptian exodus

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

    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.

    However, the unrest has sparked fears from Italy that thousands of Libyans could seek refuge in European states.

    Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, said on Wednesday he feared an immigrant exodus of up to 300,000 people if Muammer Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, is ousted.

    Italy is already grappling with a mass influx of immigrants from Tunisia since the fall of its veteran ruler.

    "There would be an exodus of biblical proportions, a problem that Italy cannot, must not underestimate," Frattini told the Corriere della Sera daily.

    "We know what awaits us when the Libyan regime falls: a wave of 200-300,000 immigrants. That would be ten times the number of Albanians in the 1990s" who headed to Italy following the demise of the communist government in Tirana.

    Cal Perry, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Valetta, the capital of Malta, said the Italian navy was sending ships out to form a net around the island of Malta possibly in reaction to fears over immigration.

    "We've just heard from the Italian military - they've just sent two warships 25 miles to the south of Malta, one a large vessel and another described as an amphibious assault vehicle.

    "It's clear to me that the Italians are setting up this naval perimeter not only to ward off Libyan warships but also there's  a major immigration concern..

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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