THE FRIENDLY GHOST
ANKARA, Turkey – Governments scrambled by air and sea to pick up their citizens stranded by Libya's bloody unrest on Tuesday, with thousands of Turks crowding into a stadium to await evacuation and Egyptians gathering at the border to escape the chaos.
At least two airlines, British Airways and Emirates, the Middle East's largest, said they were canceling flights to Tripoli, as reports spread that bodies of protesters littered the streets of neighborhoods in the capital.
Britain said it was redeploying a warship, the HMS Cumberland, off the Libyan coast in readiness for a possible sea-borne evacuation of British citizens stuck in the north African country. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his country was also seeking to send a charter flight to Libya but the plane had yet to receive the necessary permission to land.
Two civilian ferries from Turkey and one military ship were expected to arrive in the hard-hit eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday to evacuate about 3,000 Turkish citizens after the country was unable to get permission to land at the city's airport. Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the ferries could help evacuate up to 6,000 people per day, if Libyan authorities allow the vessels to dock at Benghazi.
Meanwhile, about 5,000 Egyptians have returned home from Libya by land and about 10,000 more are waiting to cross the Libya-Egypt border, an Egyptian security official said. Egypt says it will also send six commercial and two military planes to repatriate thousands more caught in the revolt against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
Some people were still getting out on regularly scheduled flights, but many countries were sending planes to fetch their citizens, with Serbia, Russia, the Netherlands and France reporting they had permission to land in Tripoli, a process made more difficult by the uncertainty about who is in charge.
"The situation is very variable and our basic issue is who is in control of what in the country so that our landing and overflight requests are answered," Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Dollis said.
Greek officials later said the country was ready to evacuate 15,000 Chinese nationals by transferring them by merchant ships to the Greek island of Crete.
Libya is one of the world's biggest oil producers, and many oil companies were also evacuating their expat workers and their families.
Turkey has a huge presence in Libya, with about 25,000 citizens in the country and more than 200 Turkish companies involved in construction projects worth more than $15 billion. Some of the construction sites reportedly came under attack by protesters but no Turkish citizen has been harmed so far, authorities said.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said 10 other countries have also asked for help from Turkey to evacuate their citizens, though he did not identify them. He said Turkey was also evaluating options to get its citizens out through Tunisia or Egypt. More than 1,000 Turkish citizens had been airlifted so far, he said.
"Our priority is to evacuate our citizens. We call on Libyan authorities to be sensitive toward the safety of foreigners," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, urging the authorities not to use violence.
About 250 Turks crossed into Egypt from Libya over land on Tuesday, authorities said. A Turkish plane took off Tuesday afternoon from Alexandria to bring them to Istanbul, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.
In Egypt, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam of inciting violence against Egyptians by suggesting they joined the protests against his father.
The Egyptian security official said troops have beefed up their presence on the border with Libya and set up a field hospital there. He did not give details and spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to share such information.
Italy was sending an air force transport aircraft to Benghazi to evacuate roughly 100 Italian citizens. With large energy interests in Libya, Italy has some 1,500 citizens living or working in the country. Some citizens have been leaving in recent days aboard regularly scheduled commercial flights from Tripoli. In addition, a special Alitalia flight from Tripoli was expected to arrive at Milan's Malpensa airport later Tuesday.
A Dutch air force transport plane left the Netherlands to pick up about 100 Dutch citizens from Tripoli. It was expected to arrive back in the country Tuesday night, but the Foreign Ministry warned potential evacuees that they must be prepared to spend the night at Tripoli's airport. Two German military planes also landed in Tripoli, with the aim of taking off later in the day.