Malta: Planned Evacuation Of Irish Citizens From Tripoli Postponed

24 Feb

AN AIR Corps aircraft that arrived at Tripoli airport late yesterday afternoon to evacuate Irish citizens left last night for Malta with no passengers on board. It is understood there were difficulties at Tripoli airport which resulted in the aircraft returning to Malta.

The Irish plane, a Casa aircraft which can accommodate 21 passengers, landed at 5pm. On board was a Department of Foreign Affairs official who was to co-ordinate evacuation procedures for Irish citizens at the airport and in the city of Tripoli.

A department spokesman confirmed yesterday there were about 70 Irish citizens in Libya, including 45 in the Tripoli area. The remainder are in the eastern city of Benghazi. That group includes six employees of the Dublin-based firm Mercury Engineering. Four women who hold Irish passports are long-term residents in the city and married to Libyan men.

The spokesman said the department was working with EU partners to explore options regarding evacuating those in Benghazi, bearing in mind that Benghazi airport was no longer operational. The evacuation is being co-ordinated by Pat Hennessy, the Irish Ambassador in Rome, who is accredited to Libya.

Meanwhile, anti-regime Libyans in Benghazi and the east of the country yesterday greeted with derision dire threats from the country’s leader, Muammar Gadafy, in his televised address on Tuesday night where he warned them they would be hunted and executed house by house, and that he would fight until “the last drop of his blood”. Speaking by phone one resident, Ahmad, said the speech was “very, very silly. It was his last hope. He was no longer the president from the moment he made this speech.” He said everything was calm in Benghazi. “The people are controlling the city.”

Local forces had expelled African militiamen who had been raiding the city and shooting protesters and pedestrians, Ahmad said. “Four hundred Africans are prisoners in Bayda,” he said, which is a town to the east. The remaining African militiamen, he said, were hiding, and no one was in command.

Army and airforce officers and units continue to defect. A war plane crashed southwest of Benghazi after the pilot and co-pilot refused orders to bomb the city and ejected from the cockpit. One of the crew was identified as Ali Omar Gadafy, from the leader’s own tribe.

Tripoli residents are fearful of the vengeance Col Gadafy has promised to wreak. An Irish-born Libyan said residents were being ordered by text messages to open their shops and return to work — or face death.

Restive neighbourhoods have been locked down. Snipers have been shooting people walking in the streets in pairs or groups while carloads of Col Gadafy’s supporters are driving around the city, flying flags and hooting horns.

A Libyan civilian aircraft, reported to be carrying 14 passengers, including Aysha, Col Gadafy’s only daughter, attempted to land at Malta’s international airport yesterday but was turned back. Ms Gadafi, a lawyer, is married to her father’s cousin.

NEWS UPDATE:

An Air Corps plane seeking to evacuate Irish citizens from Libya had to leave the capital Tripoli last night without any Irish passengers.

 Aer Corps - Prevented from picking up Irish passengers
 Aer Corps – Prevented from picking up Irish passengers
 
 Barack Obama - Condemned violent crackdown
 Barack Obama – Condemned violent crackdown

An Air Corps plane seeking to evacuate Irish citizens from Libya had to leave the capital Tripoli last night without any Irish passengers.

The aircraft has now returned to Valetta in Malta but is expected to go back to Tripoli to resume the evacuation.

The Casa plane spent about four hours on the ground at Tripoli International airport last night in the hope of evacuating some of the 70 Irish citizens based in Libya.

But the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is coordinating the evacuation, said the Irish team was prevented by Libyan security from picking-up Irish nationals.

The department would not say what reasons were given by the security officials.

The aircraft was obliged to return to Malta.

A very small number of Irish people managed to leave Tripoli last night on flights operated by other European governments.

A spokesman said the number involved is less than half a dozen.

The Casa is one of two Air Corps planes which flew to Valetta in Malta early yesterday to be on standby to make the one-hour journey to Tripoli when the opportunity arose.

US President Barack Obama has condemned the violent crackdown by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

There are estimates that as many as 1,000 people may have been killed with reports of pro-Gadaffi troops and mercenaries firing on demonstrators

In his first public statement since the uprising began over a week ago, Mr Obama said he was studying a ‘full range of options’ to pressure the regime to stop the attacks against its own people.

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