TRIPOLI, Libya, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Foreign governments Thursday worked feverishly to get their citizens out of Libya as the country fell deeper into violence between the military and protesters.
Governments used airplanes, buses and ferries to evacuate their citizens as forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi tried to keep control of his shrinking territory, The New York Times reported Thursday. Gadhafi earlier this week ordered the military to gun down protesters calling for an end to his 40-year rule.
Turkey appeared to have had the most success in removing its nationals, extracting more than 5,000 citizens via ferries and planes that left Libya during the past several days, witnesses said.
The United States is using a ferry to take about 500 people out of Libya. The vessel was docked because of bad weather and would depart once conditions improved. The State Department has said several thousand U.S. citizens were in Libya when the uprising began more than a week ago.
"The citizens on board are safe. The ferry has been sealed, since the people on board have cleared customs,"
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. "We have 285 people on board the ferry, including 40 official U.S. citizens, 127 unofficial U.S. citizens and 118 international citizens. …
"We took this step because we were unable to secure permission to land a charter aircraft earlier this week. We believe that we would have had an aircraft on the ground today had it not been for the weather. We hope to have an aircraft on the ground tomorrow."
Canadian officials said a Skylink chartered flight from Rome to Tripoli remained on the ground because airline officials were concerned about insurance liability, Postmedia News said.
Foreign Affairs officials said the plane could hold 220 passengers and if there weren't enough Canadians to fill it, citizens from other countries would be allowed to board.
Migrant workers from Asia and other African nations had to fend for themselves because their home countries couldn't organize evacuations for whatever reason, the Times said, reporting that many such workers fled to Tunisia and Egypt by foot or on buses.
Turkish officials said 21 countries, including Russia and the United States, asked for help in evacuations. Israel agreed to allow about 300 Palestinians to leave Libya and go to the West Bank, even though they did not have residency documents, the Times said.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said many migrants from poorer nations were "bunkering down for the moment."
The International Organization for Migration said as many as 1.5 million migrants were working in Libya when the protests began in the country's construction industry and oil fields.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warned Wednesday as many as 300,000 migrant workers in Libya could flee to Europe, with many ending up in nearby countries, including Italy and Greece.
"We are not asking Europe to distribute the immigrants across its territory, but we are asking for a serious mechanism on how to split the economic and social burden of an immigration wave," he said. "Europe needs to assume its duties."