Babylon & Beyond

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LIBYA: Evacuations thwarted by weather, panic and deteriorating security

February 24, 2011 |  8:50 am

Foreign governments' efforts to evacuate tens of thousands of citizens from strife-torn Libya were thwarted for a second day Thursday by a storm off the shores of Tripoli and the panicked throngs besieging the ferry terminal and airport as clashes raged throughout the capital.

Click here for an interactive map locating protests in the Arab world About 600 Americans were stranded aboard a ferry at Tripoli's harbor, reportedly prevented from sailing by approaching bad weather. U.S. government requests to land aircraft to pick up citizens trying to flee the violence have been denied, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters in Washington.

Other foreign governments have managed to evacuate large groups of their nationals by ship from Tripoli, including 4,500 Chinese workers whisked to safety on the Greek island of Crete. Turkey also has managed to send in ships to repatriate the first few hundred of an estimated 3,000 Turkish workers who have converged on the port.

The failure of the U.S. evacuation voyage to get under way spurred speculation in European media that embattled Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi was blocking the ferry's departure to create a human shield against any forceful action by the United States or its allies against the regime.

News agencies reported chaotic scenes at the international airport in Tripoli, with upwards of 10,000 people clamoring to board the few planes able to land. Alitalia suspended flights Thursday, citing security concerns. British Petroleum chartered flights to evacuate its foreign workers to London's Gatwick Airport, and Spanish oil giant Repsol also sent planes to bring home employees.

Military aircraft from Greece arrived to Tripoli Thursday to collect European Union citizens trying to leave the country, the Athens government reported.

-- Carol J. Williams