Countries scramble to evacuate citizens from Libya
By SELCAN HACAOGLU, Associated Press
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - 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 neighborhoods in the capital.
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 Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
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, a process made more difficult by the uncertainty about who is in charge.
"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," Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis said.
Libya is one of the world's biggest oil producers, and many oil companies were also 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.
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," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, urging the authorities not to use violence.
About 250 Turks crossed into Egypt from Libya over land on Tuesday, authorities said. A Turkish plane was to take off Tuesday afternoon from Alexandria to bring them to Istanbul, Semih Turgut, consul general of Turkey in Alexandria told NTV television.
In Egypt, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused Gadhafi'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.
A Dutch air force transport plane left the country to pick up about 100 Dutch citizens from Tripoli. It is expected to arrive back in the country Tuesday night, but the Foreign Ministry warned potential evacuees that they must be prepared to spend the night at Tripoli's airport.
Russian Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said in televised comments that an Il-76 plane was 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.
Other oil companies, including Italy's Eni, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, U.K.-based BP and Germany's Wintershall, a subsidiary of BASF, have been pulling out employees.
Emirates said it was halting its daily flights to Tripoli until further notice. British Airways canceled Tuesday's flight to Tripoli and its return leg to London's Heathrow Airport as a precaution, spokesman Euan Fordyce said. The airline, which flies daily to and from Tripoli, is reviewing flights for the rest of the week, Fordyce added.
Germany's Lufthansa said it was going ahead with its scheduled flight from Tripoli to Frankfurt on Tuesday, and was using a larger plane than usual to get as many people out as possible.
In addition, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that two German military planes were in the air to help the evacuation effort. He added that "all other possibilities are being examined, including the sea route."
Many Germans already left on a scheduled flight Monday, Westerwelle said. But, German diplomats were working on getting people out. Some 500 Germans are registered as living in Libya, and the foreign ministry estimates that some 400 were still there Tuesday morning, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in line with German government policy.
Frances D'Emilio in Rome, Mike Corder in Amsterdam, David Nowak in Moscow, Alan Clendenning in Madrid, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jamey Keaten in Paris, Salah Nasrawi in Cairo and Adam Schreck in Dubai, Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)