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Asian Nations Evacuating Personnel from Iraq - 2003-03-17

Australia and New Zealand have urged their citizens to leave Iraq immediately as war looms. Many Asian nations have already closed diplomatic missions in Baghdad.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has called on all New Zealanders in Iraq to evacuate immediately.

Her decision came several hours after a summit by the United States, Britain and Spain ended with military action against Iraq appearing imminent. Ms. Clark said she had little hope that war could be avoided.

"It appears that that meeting was probably best described as council of war than a last push for peace," Ms. Clark said.

At least 22 New Zealanders are still in Iraq, including members of the United Nations weapons inspection team.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also called on Australians still in Iraq, Kuwait and Israel to "leave immediately" because of the "deteriorating security environment." The foreign ministry also urged Australians to avoid travel to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Qatar and Bahrain.

China began evacuating its diplomatic personnel in Baghdad Monday.

Hong Kong has also urged citizens not to travel to Iraq and countries in the Persian Gulf.

Jakarta has ordered all remaining embassy staff to leave for Syria Monday. Indonesia's foreign ministry said it has already drawn contingency plans for relocating an estimated 50,000 Indonesians working in the Middle East.

The Philippines has already set up an assistance center in Kuwait for the more than 1.5 million Philippine nationals working in the region.

The Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia evacuated diplomats to neighboring Jordan last week. Japan withdrew staff from Baghdad earlier this month.

Indian and Bangladeshi diplomats have also left Baghdad for Amman. The Bangladesh embassy in Baghdad has been closed but India's diplomatic mission would remain open, staffed by local employees.

The United States and Britain say Monday is the final day for diplomatic efforts to strip Iraq of its banned weapons of mass destruction. Washington has advised U.N. weapons inspectors to leave Iraq immediately, a sign that a U.S.-led attack may come very soon.