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February 22, 2011

In Libya, Mass Evacuation of Foreigners Continues

A massive evacuation of foreigners from Libya is underway by air, sea, and land.

Tens of thousands of foreigners in Libya are boarding planes, ships and, in some cases, overcrowded vans in an effort to flee the chaos that has erupted from opposition protests and a government crackdown.

Two Turkish vessels picked up 3,000 Turks from the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi Wednesday, as part of what Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the biggest evacuation operation in Turkey's history.  Benghazi's airport has been shut down for several days, forcing nations to evacuate their citizens by sea.  About 25,000 Turks resided in Libya, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire.  

Chinese state media say Beijing also is organizing an air, sea and land operation to evacuate up to 33,000 Chinese citizens from Libya.  The operation involves chartered aircraft, Chinese commercial ships, fishing boats and buses. Greek news agencies say the Greek government will help China to transport as many as 13,000 Chinese to the Mediterranean island of Crete.

South Asian nations also prepared evacuation plans for tens of thousands of their citizens working in Libya, many as low-paid laborers on construction sites.

Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes says Dhaka is considering all options for repatriating up to 60,000 Bangladeshis from Libya. The impoverished South Asian nation has been in contact with international organizations to seek their assistance with evacuation plans.

India is preparing for a massive evacuation of its estimated 18,000 citizens in Libya.  Indian officials say they are using ships and also working to have citizens cross into Egypt.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department says a ferry that can carry about 600 people arrived at a port in Tripoli Wednesday to carry U.S. citizens and some foreigners to Malta.

Britain said it was deploying Royal Navy warship HMS Cumberland off the Libyan coast to help with a possible sea-borne evacuation of British citizens stuck in the country.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is taking steps to evacuate his country's stranded citizens from Tripoli and Benghazi. Several hundred Nigerians are estimated to be in Libya.

The Philippines offered to pay for flights to evacuate some of its 26,000 Libya-based citizens, while South Korea urged its workers to leave after looters attacked several South Korean-operated construction sites in the North African country.

Reuters says several thousand people have streamed across the Ras Jdir crossing between Libya and Tunisia on Wednesday.   The International Organization for Migration says Tunisian nationals, along with Lebanese, Turkish, Syrians and Germans have crossed into the country.

Several nations also sent military and civilian planes to Tripoli or were preparing to do so in coordination with Libyan authorities. Those nations include Bulgaria, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, the Netherlands, Russia, Serbia and Spain. Passengers who arrived in European cities reported chaotic scenes at Tripoli's airport.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.