ATHENS — With the violence in Libya escalating to its worst level since the 2011 ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, governments from around the world are scrambling to evacuate their citizens from the country, many seeking help from nearby Greece.
A Greek government official told The Associated Press that a merchant vessel has been chartered by the Chinese government for the evacuation of “hundreds” of its citizens, but gave no further details. The official asked not to be named because details of the operation are still being finalized.
According to the Greek Defense Ministry and other government officials, the Mediterranean country is also sending a navy frigate, Salamis, which was approaching Tripoli late July 31, to pick up its embassy staff members as well as about 70 Greeks and dozens of others from China, Cyprus, Britain and Malta after their governments requested help.
The evacuations have been triggered by clashes between heavily armed rival militias in Libya resulting in the worst violence since the civil war three years ago. After weeks of fighting nearly 100 people have been killed, 400 others wounded, and much of the airport in Tripoli has been destroyed.
Many countries have suspended operations at their embassies in Tripoli, including Greece and the United States, and advised their citizens to leave the country.
“We’re getting new requests for assistance all the time,” the official said.
The European Union said it was moving members of its border assistance mission and other staff in Libya to Tunisia. And earlier this week, Spain sent a military plane to pick up 60 people from Libya, while France sent two navy ships to collect 47 people, mostly French citizens.
The Philippines’ Foreign Secretary, Albert del Rosario, has said he will fly to Tunisia’s Djerba Island near the Libyan border to help arrange the departure of about 13,000 Filipino workers from the Libyan cities of Benghazi and Misarata, as well as Tripoli.
During the 2011 civil war, Greece assisted China and other countries in the Libya evacuation, basing many of its operations from the Mediterranean island of Crete, which is less than 300 kilometers (185 miles) from the east Libyan coast and has two international airports and a large hotel capacity.
Regional authorities on the island said they were not aware of any new evacuation plans.
AP reporters Greg Keller in Paris, Juergen Baetz in Brussels, Patrick Quinn in Cairo, Jim Gomez in Manilla, Alan Clandenning in Madrid, Veselin Toshkov in Sofia and others contributed to this report.