The flight of foreign workers and diplomats from Libya accelerated Thursday, with thousands ordered home by their native countries as fighting consumed major cities and the Tripoli airport.
Clashes between Islamist gangs and fractured government forces have killed about 200 people in a two-week period that marks the worst unrest since the ouster and execution of longtime strongman Moammar Kadafi three years ago.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he was headed to Tunisia to organize the evacuation of 13,000 Filipinos from neighboring Libya. The move comes after the beheaded remains of one Philippine national were found in Benghazi last week and a nurse was abducted and gang-raped Wednesday.
“Our major challenge, as in 2011, is to convince our folks that they must leave Libya at the soonest time to avoid the perils of a highly exacerbating situation there,” Del Rosario told reporters in Manila. He equated the current dangers to the violence that engulfed Libya ahead of Kadafi’s overthrow, when many Filipino workers were reluctant to abandon jobs to return home.
Fighting continued Thursday at the shuttered Tripoli airport, which has come under repeated attack since a July 13 assult by allied Islamist groups. The closure has forced foreign governments to resort to overland convoys and marine vessels to evacuate their citizens.
The Philippines planned to ferry some Filipinos to Malta for flights to Manila. Others were being bused out through Tunisia for the flight home, Del Rosario said.
Greek officials dispatched a naval frigate and a passenger ferry to evacuate 200 people, including 70 Greeks, 15 Cypriots and 80 Chinese, the Foreign Ministry said.
More than 1,000 Chinese left Libya this summer, but hundreds more remain at their posts in the oil and construction industries.
U.S. Embassy staffers in Tripoli were evacuated Saturday by a convoy to neighboring Tunisia, under the protective cover of American warplanes and surveillance aircraft, the State Department and the Pentagon said.
“Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
The United Nations has also suspended operations in Libya and moved workers out of the country.
Spain joined the exodus Thursday, pulling its ambassador and embassy staff out of Tripoli.
“All the information we have is that the situation in Libya will get much worse very quickly,” Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo told parliament.
Britain, France, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil, Russia, Egypt and many other countries have also closed diplomatic missions and advised nationals working in the private sector to escape the spreading violence.
India this week advised 6,000 nationals, who work mostly in medical services and construction, to leave. About 18,000 Indian nationals had been working in Libya earlier this year.
Islamic militants claimed Thursday to have taken control of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, which has been the center of tribal and sectarian unrest that has engulfed the oil-rich country in the chaotic wake of Kadafi’s overthrow.
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