High winds, rough seas hamper Libyan evacuations
ANKARA, Turkey – Hundreds of Americans and other foreigners were still stuck on a ferry unable to leave strife-torn Libya on Friday due to rough seas, while high winds affected the takeoff of Turkish military planes involved in the evacuation effort.
The Americans and others have been waiting aboard the Maria Dolores at Tripoli's As-shahab port since Wednesday. The U.S. State Department said in a tweet that 167 U.S. citizens and 118 citizens of other countries were on the ferry.
Tens of thousands of foreigners are trying to flee the chaos in Libya with Americans, Turks and Chinese climbing aboard ships, Europeans mostly boarding evacuation flights and North Africans racing to border crossings in overcrowded vans. European countries scrambled to send more ships and military planes to the North African nation and Britain mulled whether to send in its military to rescue stranded oil workers.
Four Turkish military cargo planes brought more than 400 Turks from Tripoli home Friday morning, the Foreign Ministry said. Turkey has so far evacuated nearly 8,000 of its 25,000-30,000 citizens, most of whom work in construction projects in Libya. Around 200 Turkish firms operate in Libya.
"We have asked companies who are not facing an imminent danger not to evacuate their workers from Libya," Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told ATV television in an interview on Thursday night. "But if they are in danger, then we will arrange transfer for them to airports or ports and take them."
Two Greek ships braved churning seas Thursday to whisk some 4,500 Chinese workers away from Libya to the island of Crete. Up to 15,000 Chinese — about half the number of Chinese working in Libya on construction and oil projects — are expected to arrive by ferry in Crete and fly home on chartered flights.
Strong winds on Friday were affecting eight more Turkish military planes ready to take off from an airport close to the Mediterranean, NTV television reported. Turkish Airlines is also heavily involved in the evacuation effort but several commercial airlines suspended flights to Libya on Thursday amid scenes of chaos and deteriorating security and safety at Tripoli airport.
The situation in Libya grew increasingly unstable with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi tried to roll back the uprising against his rule that has advanced closer to his stronghold in Tripoli, attacking two nearby cities in battles that killed at least 17 people. But rebels made new gains, seizing a military air base, as Gadhafi blamed Osama bin Laden for the upheaval on Thursday.
The first big group of U.N. workers evacuated from Libya arrived in Rome on Thursday night aboard an Italian C-130 and said the situation in Tripoli was deteriorating.
People who managed to flee Tripoli by air described chaos at the airport, with people shoving and climbing over each other to get on planes. Amateur video showed crowds of people jammed shoulder to shoulder, some appearing to be camped out.
"The airport is just a zoo. There's about 10,000 people there, all trying to get out," Briton Ewan Black told the BBC as he got off a flight at London's Gatwick Airport. "It's just absolutely manic, basically it's uncontrolled."
Indonesia said it was preparing to evacuate all 875 of its citizens, mostly construction workers and students, believed to be in Libya.
Suzan Fraser in Marmaris, Turkey, Thanassis Stavrakis in Iraklio, Crete, and Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.