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Turkish Nationals Leaving Libya as Turmoil Escalates

A Turkish man, second from right, greets family members after arriving in Turkey from Libya February 22, 2011.
A Turkish man, second from right, greets family members after arriving in Turkey from Libya February 22, 2011.

With the crisis continuing to deepen in Libya, Turkey's prime minister has announced mass evacuation measures to remove thousands of Turks from the country. Hundreds of Turks have already fled the country.

Every day brings plane loads of Turks escaping the turmoil in Libya. Arriving at Istanbul's main airport, many of them have grim stories to tell, like this man: "At night it was very violent," he said. "We could hear the gunshots. We could see the clouds of smoke, All the Turks are worried."

A woman had a similar story.  "We live in the center of the city and suddenly there is no police or people in regular uniforms," she said. "There were just people who were shooting with machine guns at everything. I believe many people died."

According to the Turkish government there are nearly 25,000 Turks living in Libya, most of whom are working there.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in his weekly address to parliamentary deputies,  said that 800 people had been already been evacuated and a further 2,800 want to leave.

The prime minister said seven planes were ready to leave and two ferryboats escorted by a Turkish frigate, were about to arrive in Libya.

Mr. Erdogan also gave a warning. "I would like to remind both officials and government opponents in Libya to be extremely careful to ensure the security of foreigners in their country," he said. "Taking cruel steps against people voicing their democratic demands will only exacerbate the spiral of violence and threaten the country’s unity."

Unconfirmed Turkish news reports claim Libyan security forces have detained several Turkish nationals, accusing them of being involved in the unrest. Other reports say the nationals are accused of working for Israel. Such reports only add to the anxiety faced by those in Turkey awaiting news from their relatives.

One woman whose family is stranded in Libya said, "They are stuck in the middle of the desert. They are in a dire situation and because they are in the desert nobody knows about their situation."

The Turkish prime minister has until now largely  avoided speaking about events in Libya. That is in contrast to his call on the then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down. But observers say with Turkey having such a large number of nationals living in Libya and having close multi billion dollar trade deals with the country, the prime minister has to tread carefully.

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