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British military planes in dramatic Libyan desert rescue

Nearly 16,000 Chinese evacuated from Libya
Beijing (AFP) Feb 27, 2011 - Beijing said Saturday nearly 16,000 Chinese nationals have been evacuated from strife-torn Libya, where a popular uprising has left hundreds dead. The foreign ministry said Chinese citizens had been sent to Greece, Tunisia, Egypt and Malta where they were waiting for government-chartered planes and commercial flights to take them back to China "as soon as possible". The Civil Aviation Administration of China agreed Saturday to send 15 aircraft a day for the next two weeks to speed up the evacuation of Chinese citizens.

About 700 Chinese nationals have so far returned to China, the statement said. China has ramped up a massive air, sea and land operation to evacuate more than 30,000 citizens from oil-rich Libya, as violence in the North African country escalates. According to state media, Chinese citizens living in Libya work mainly in the oil, rail and telecom sectors. Terrified residents in the capital Tripoli were braced for bloody battles on Saturday after a night of gunfire as Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi said he was ready to arm civilian supporters to defeat the popular revolt.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Feb 26, 2011
Two British military transport aircraft swooped into desert camps in strife-torn Libya on Saturday and evacuated more than 150 stranded civilians, the defence minister said.

Britain has also suspended operations at its embassy in Tripoli after all staff were evacuated on the last government-chartered flight from the capital, the Foreign Office said separately.

One of the Royal Air Force C130 Hercules planes involved in the desert rescue has landed in the Mediterranean island state of Malta and the other was due to arrive shortly, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said in a statement.

British media reported that the Special Air Service and other elite troops were involved in the mission, but the Ministry of Defence said it would not comment on the movements of special forces.

"I can confirm that two RAF C130 Hercules aircraft have evacuated more than 150 civilians from desert locations south of Benghazi. The first aircraft has landed in Malta and the second will arrive shortly," Fox said.

"The planes will be met by a team of consular officials and Red Cross staff in Valletta. Once disembarked, the passengers will be given food and water and offered full consular assistance at the airport.

"A number of other military assets remain available to support the FCO-led efforts to return civilians from Libya."

Britain's government has faced criticism at home for being too slow to help an estimated 170 oil workers stuck at desert camps, who complained they faced the threat of looters as well as diminishing supplies of food and water.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said the Turkish government would temporarily represent its interests in Libya after the closure of the embassy.

"In light of the deteriorating situation in Libya, and as our last FCO charter flight has now left Tripoli, we have temporarily suspended the operations of the British Embassy in Tripoli," it said in a statement.

The embassy staff, including members of a rapid deployment team sent earlier in the week from London, left on the charter flight due to arrive at London Gatwick airport at around 2200 GMT.

It is carrying around 100 passengers, 53 of whom are British nationals, it said.

Separately the British frigate HMS Cumberland is returning to Benghazi to evacuate any other British nationals after bringing evacuees to Malta earlier Saturday.

earlier related report
Exodus from Libya as thousands land in Malta
Valletta (AFP) Feb 26, 2011 - A British warship and a Chinese-chartered ferry arrived in Malta on Saturday loaded with thousands of evacuees from Libya in an exodus of foreign nationals fleeing the oil-rich North African state.

The HMS Cumberland frigate had left the rebel-held port of Benghazi in eastern Libya on Thursday carrying 207 passengers but was forced to travel at a reduced speed because of the rough weather in the Mediterranean.

The vessel carried citizens from 20 countries -- part of a vast multinational workforce including oil executives, builders and domestic workers who are escaping by air, land and sea amid fears of a full-blown civil war.

A ferry that docked in Malta on Saturday carried 2,216 Chinese nationals also from Benghazi, who will remain on board until planes come to pick them up.

Nearly 3,000 Chinese also landed on the Greek island of Crete on Saturday as part of a major evacuation plan for China's 33,000-strong workforce in Libya, who were mainly working in the oil, rail and telecom sectors.

China's foreign ministry said 16,000 Chinese have been evacuated so far.

Richard Weeks, 64, a British manager who arrived on the HMS Cumberland, said he had been working on a water project in Libya and was robbed by looters.

"They were armed with knives and knew they could take what they wanted, so it was better to let them get on with it," he was quoted by Britain's defence ministry as saying. "It was a very sad and terrifying situation," he added.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "a lot of work" was underway on plans to extract up to 170 British oil workers stranded in remote desert locations.

A plane also set off from London for Libya on Saturday in what was expected to be the last charter flight to bring back what Hague said where the "very few British nationals remaining in Tripoli."

Some 500 people from 25 countries have also boarded two Turkish army vessels in Libya, together with about 1,200 Turks, officials in Ankara said.

India said two specially-chartered planes had left for Tripoli to begin the evacuation of some 18,000 Indians living in the strife-torn country.

Meanwhile a group of dozens of Filipinos out of an estimated 26,000 in Libya including domestic helpers and white-collar workers arrived in Manila.

A US-chartered ferry carrying hundreds of people from Tripoli including American diplomats docked in Malta on Friday after braving 20-foot (six-metre) waves, with at least two evacuees taken away on stretchers by paramedics.

The US State Department has stepped up rescue operations for US nationals as it increases the pressure on Moamer Kadhafi, with sanctions unveiled by Washington on Friday against the Libyan leader and four of his sons.

The US has also announced the closure of its embassy in Tripoli.

A second privately-chartered ferry from Libya with hundreds of evacuees on board also arrived in Malta on Friday, along with two German warships set to take away German citizens airlifted out of Libya earlier this week.

Tens of thousands of Egyptian migrant workers also continued streaming across Libya's western land border with Tunisia.

The Red Crescent humanitarian organisation has warned it can no longer house them and has run out of mattresses and blankets.

"The Egyptian consulate in Tunis told us that the Egyptians would organise 17 flights today" to bring their citizens back, Monji Slim, the local Red Crescent representative, told AFP at the Tunisia-Libya border.

"Thousands of Egyptians are still arriving at the border," Slim said.

The International Organisation of Migration in Geneva says tens of thousands have fled across the border into Tunisia and is appealing for millions of dollars (euros) in international aid to help cope with the emergency.

Hundreds of foreigners including Egyptians, Iraqis and Syrians have also been fleeing from Libya into Algeria through the Sahara Desert.

On Friday, the NATO military alliance has offered to help evacuation efforts and the European Union said 3,600 EU nationals remained stranded in Libya.

Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler, has already evacuated hundreds of its citizens and a military ship that loaded 245 evacuees in the Libyan port of Misrata was expected to arrive in Sicily later on Saturday.

Several other countries with major migrant populations in Libya including Nigeria, South Korea and Syria have also announced large-scale evacuation plans this week involving ferries and planes.

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