Countries rush to evacuate citizens from Libya

British Airways, Emirates cancel flights to Tripoli as reports spread that streets of the capital littered with bodies.

February 22, 2011 16:15
4 minute read.
Pro-Islamic Turk holds a poster of Libyan leader

anti Gaddafi protest 311. (photo credit: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)


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ANKARA, Turkey — Governments scrambled by air and sea to pick up their citizens stranded by Libya's bloody unrest on Tuesday, with thousands of Turks crowding into a stadium to await evacuation and Egyptians gathering at the border to escape the chaos.

At least two airlines, British Airways and Emirates, the Middle East's largest, said they were canceling flights to Tripoli, as reports spread that bodies of protesters littered the streets of a district in the capital.

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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.

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 against Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

Other countries said they were preparing planes to fetch their citizens, with Serbia, Russia, the Netherlands and France reporting they had permission to land in Tripoli. Libya is one of the world's biggest oil producers, and many oil companies were evacuating their expat workers and their families.

Turkey has a huge presence in Libya, with about 25,000 citizens in the country and more than 200 Turkish companies involved in construction projects worth more than $15 billion. Some of the construction sites reportedly came under attack by protesters but no Turkish citizen has been harmed so far, authorities said.

Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said 10 other countries have also asked for help from Turkey to evacuate their citizens, though he did not identify them. He said Turkey was also evaluating options to get its citizens out through Tunisia or Egypt. More than 1,000 Turkish citizens had been airlifted so far, he said.

"Our priority is to evacuate our citizens. We call on Libyan authorities to be sensitive toward the safety of foreigners," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, urging the authorities not to use violence.

Egypt FM accuses Gaddafi's son of incitement against Egyptians

In Egypt, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam of inciting against Egyptians by suggesting they joined the protests against his father.

The Egyptian security official said troops have beefed up their presence on the border with Libya and set up a field hospital there. He did not give details and spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to share such information.

Italy was sending an air force transport aircraft to Benghazi to evacuate roughly 100 Italian citizens. Italy's state radio said Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa made the announcement to reporters in Abu Dhabi, where he is on an official visit.

Italy, with large energy interests in Libya, has some 1,500 citizens living or working in the country. Some citizens have been leaving in recent days aboard regularly scheduled commercial flights from Tripoli. In addition, a special Alitalia flight from Tripoli was expected to arrive at Milan's Malpensa airport later Tuesday.

European countries send planes to save citizens

A Dutch air force transport plane had been given clearance to fly to Tripoli and was expected to leave early afternoon to pick up about 100 Dutch citizens and arrive back in the country Tuesday night, the Defense Ministry said.

Russian Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said in televised comments that an Il-76 plane is to take off for Tripoli on Tuesday to collect 134 Russians. A total of 563 people are to be evacuated eventually on four planes, she said. Most are employees of state companies Russian Railways and Gazprom, plus their families.

Ukraine is planning to send a defense ministry plane and the Bulgarian foreign ministry said a government plane was ready to take off from Sofia airport as soon as it had permission to land in Tripoli to pick up 180 people.

The French Foreign Ministry said three French Airbus planes were heading to Tripoli's airport — where the French Embassy has set up a temporary office — to fly out 530 to 550 people.

Spanish oil company Repsol-YPF had about 200 workers and relatives of workers in Libya before the crisis began, and a company source said Tuesday that some had been evacuated from the country and that Repsol was trying to get the rest out. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to discuss the matter.

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