Libya unrest: Britons urged to flee Tripoli

Media caption,
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the rescue mission for Britons in Libya was in the final phase

The final rescue flight to bring back Britons trapped in Libya has left for the capital Tripoli, with Foreign Secretary William Hague urging people to take the chance to flee.

The government-chartered plane left Gatwick with the aim of picking up an estimated 50 Britons still in Tripoli.

Another 70 Britons arrived in Malta in the early hours of Saturday after being taken out of Libya on HMS Cumberland.

They endured a 35-hour journey from the Libyan port of Benghazi on rough seas.

They were among a total of 207 people evacuated from the port by the British naval ship which Mr Hague said would return to Benghazi on Sunday to pick any others wishing to leave. A second warship, HMS York, is also being sent.

BBC Europe Editor, Gavin Hewitt, who is in Malta, said many were exhausted and weary and told of harrowing experiences reaching the safety of the vessel. Other Britons had arrived aboard a catamaran that had been at sea for two days.

Our correspondent said that the focus now was on the 200-300 oil workers stranded in remote and vulnerable locations.

"These are very complicated operations. People are spread out over a wide area. The focus is on trying to evacuate them or extract them over the weekend."

The government's emergency committee Cobra met on Saturday to discuss the ongoing efforts to get UK nationals out of Libya.Those who reached Malta praised the Royal Navy and spoke of their ordeals to reach safety.

Mike Wilson, 61, a former sailor from Stamshaw in Portsmouth, made his way from Brega in the south of the country to meet the British warship in Benghazi.

He said: "I can't speak highly enough of how we were treated and cared for in getting out of Libya. It was a very dangerous situation which was escalating and all of us on board were glad to be rescued."

Another Briton told of the moment he was robbed at knifepoint. Richard Weeks, 64, a contracts manager from Sully, near Cardiff, had been working on a clean water project when the security situation worsened.

"We were faced with looters rushing into the property where we were holed up, and there was nothing we could do. It had been getting more risky for the 10 days before and there was no prospect of it easing.

"They were armed with knives and knew they could take what they wanted, so it was better to let them get on with it."

Passengers who arrived back at Gatwick on a government-chartered plane on Friday evening described hearing constant gunshots at night in Tripoli and seeing tanks and eerily deserted streets.

Mr Hague said: "There are now very few British nationals remaining in Tripoli. It's very important that those that remain go to the airport, that they do so at first light [on Saturday].With regards to those stranded in desert locations, Mr Hague added: "We are doing a lot of work on how we can help them. We can't say anything more about that at the moment."

Protesters have faced heavy gunfire in Tripoli as Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has defied calls to stand down.

Fighting has raged for the past week between anti-government forces and pro-Gaddafi troops and militiamen in towns and cities outside the capital.

Since Thursday, Britons have arrived back in the UK on four FCO-chartered flights and one chartered by oil company BP.

Some 49 British nationals have also departed on a US ferry from Tripoli harbour.

The FCO, which is advising against all but essential travel to Libya, said it had directly helped about 450 British nationals to leave Libya so far, and facilitated the departure of another 150.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister had spoken to a number of other European leaders about the situation and had agreed that urgent measures were required, including a tough sanctions package targetting the regime directly.

A spokesman for Mr Cameron said: "There was clear agreement that the actions of the Libyan regime were totally unacceptable and that brutality and intimidation would not be tolerated."

Meanwhile, anti-Gaddafi protesters demonstrated outside the Libyan embassy in London. Among them were members of the radical Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

They waved placards calling for a return to what the demonstrators called the Islamic way of life.

Image caption,
Protesters outside the Libyan embassy in London

Nazim Ghani, a 40 year old Bangladeshi doctor living in east London said: "We want to see the end of these regimes in the Muslim world. We want to see real independence and the only way that will come is with a new Islamic system."

The numbers for British nationals to call about charter flights out of Libya are 020 7008 0000 from the UK or 021 340 3644/45 from Libya.

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