Canadian evacuation flight leaves Libya empty

A charter aircraft dispatched by the Canadian government Friday to pick up its citizens fleeing the violence in Libya left Tripoli with only its crew aboard after it could not find any Canadians waiting at the airport.

Canadian Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Lynn Meahan said the plane could not stay long on the ground, and there were no other citizens from "like-minded countries" who needed the flight.

Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said the flight left empty because of confusion and suggested the fault rested with the Foreign Affairs department.

"That has to do with coordination on the ground, ensuring that people are aware that an exit is available to them," MacKay said. "We're trying to coordinate that through the Department of Foreign Affairs and through other countries."

Tens of thousands of foreigners have been fleeing the North African country by ground, air and sea following a violent crackdown on protesters by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Canada's Foreign Affairs defended its efforts to try to evacuate its citizens from Libya on Thursday amid problems getting a charter flight into Tripoli. The charter was supposed to pick up some 200 Canadians in the Libyan capital, and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon had planned to welcome them back at Rome's airport.

But the charter company's insurance wouldn't cover the flight into the volatile area.

Meahan said Friday that Canadians continued to be evacuated by allies and said another charter from Canada was expected in Tripoli shortly.

A Canadian military plane was also awaiting permission from the Libyan authorities to land.

In addition, Canada's governor general, the representative of Canada's head of state, has agreed to keep his aircraft on standby for possible use; he is due to be in Kuwait on Friday.

Italy has also offered to welcome any Canadians trapped in Benghazi aboard its navy ships that have authorization to approach Libyan shores, Cannon said. It's not clear if and when the Italian vessels might arrive.

Canada has said 344 Canadians are registered with the embassy in Tripoli and at least 213 have said they want out. Meahan said the Canadian embassy in Tripoli continues to offer emergency consular services to Canadians but offered no explanation for why Canadians might not have known about the first flight.

"Our government is doing everything possible to help Canadians leave this dangerous situation, including chartering flights, and tasking military aircraft to the region," Meahan said. "We are also cooperating and sharing resources with our allies to get all our citizens home safely."

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the actions of the Libyan regime "appalling" and said his government is preparing sanctions which could include a weapons embargo and an asset freeze.

"The Libyan regime must and will be held accountable for its violations and human rights atrocities against the Libyan people," Harper said.