The first batch of Indians evacuated from the strife-torn north African nation of Libya will land here in a special Air India flight close to midnight Saturday, officials said.
Meanwhile, three Indian Navy ships have sailed to Libya to help in the evacuation of the 18,000 Indians in the country, while the external affairs ministry said another passenger ship, presently in the Mediterranean Sea, is being chartered for evacuation and expected to reach Libya’s Benghazi Monday.
The special flights, two in a day, will bring back Indians stranded in Libya, where a revolt against the Muammar Gaddafi government has turned violent, so far claiming over 1,000 lives. “The first plane carrying 291 passengers from (Libyan capital) Tripoli will land here by 11.45 p.m. It took off at 4.30 p.m. from there,” a senior Air India official said.
He said the Boeing 747 jumbo jet which was sent to Libya for evacuation of Indians will soon be followed by a second plane which is scheduled to take off from Tripoli soon. “The second plane, an Airbus A330, will follow soon and land in Delhi by tomorrow (Sunday),” the official said. The Air India official added that both the planes were expected to bring back around 700 passengers.
The specially chartered Air India Boeing 747 with a capacity of 360 passengers, and an Airbus 330 with a capacity of 280, will return to New Delhi, landing at Terminal 2, after picking up passengers at Tripoli, the external affairs ministry said earlier Saturday.
Additional personnel are in position at the Indian embassy in Tripoli to enhance the manpower strength of the mission, a ministry release said.
Another passenger ship with a capacity of 1,600, presently in the Mediterranean, is being chartered today (Saturday) and will be pressed into service for evacuating Indians, the release added. The ship, Scotia Prince is scheduled to leave Port Said (Egypt) Saturday and likely to arrive at its destination by Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Indian Navy’s INS Jalashwa and INS Mysore – specially equipped for the mission with full medical facilities on board, including operation theaters, doctors and paramedical staff, set sail from Mumbai.
The main rescue vessel, INS Jalashwa is a Landing Platform Dock-type amphibious platform particularly designed for sea lift mission and also capable of undertaking humanitarian missions, while INS Mysore is a Delhi-class destroyer. The ships are also carrying helicopters and a contingent of marine special forces personnel. A third ship, INS Aditya is also accompanying the two rescue ships to provide them the necessary logistics support. The ships will evacuate Indian nationals from Libya to either Malta or Egypt, from where they will be transferred by air to India. The rescue fleet is expected to reach Libya in ten days’ time, the official said.
Reports indicate that troops supporting Gaddafi went on with their killing spree, with a report from Tajoura town saying that live ammunition was used against anti-government demonstrators. An estimated 1,000 people have died in the uprising that began February 14 against the four-decade rule of Gaddafi.
Other parts of the Arab world, too, saw violence. While in Yemen, four people were killed in clashes that took place Friday night, Tunisia’s caretaker government promised to hold elections in mid-July instead of September as protests again took place to seek removal of interim prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi. In Algeria, hundreds of protesters Saturday took part in demonstrations.
Libya was on the edge Saturday as anxious people wondered what Gaddafi might do to quell the unrest that started from Benghazi city in the east and quickly spread across the country. Abu Yousef, a local resident, told Al Jazeera from Tajoura town Saturday that live ammunition was being used against anti-government protesters. “Security forces are also searching houses in the area and killing those who they accuse of being against the government,” he was quoted as saying.
DPA has reported France to have placed all bank accounts belonging to Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi and members of his inner circle under surveillance, the finance ministry department responsible for money laundering said Saturday.
All financial institutions have been asked to report any suspicious accounts, the Tracfin department said. France has repeatedly called for sanctions against Libya’s leaders after a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests in the country. The European Union is expected to make a formal decision on sanctions next week.
The UN Security Council is also meeting to discuss a draft resolution that would impose an arms embargo on Libya and a travel ban on designated individuals, in reaction to continued armed attacks on civilian protesters.
Diplomats said the 15-nation council would act on the draft if its closed-door discussion resulted in an agreement on the measures against the regime of Libyan strongman Muammer Gaddafi. The sanctions aim at ending the bloodshed in Libya, the UN said.
The draft also calls for an asset freeze for members of the Gaddafi regime. The individuals to be targeted would be discussed by a committee on sanctions to be set up at a later stage. The draft calls on the council to enact the sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows use of force to implement the measures.
Chapter VII has in the past been used to deploy peacekeeping missions and conduct military operations in Iraq and Somalia. The draft demands an ‘immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate demands of the population’ in Libya. Libyan authorities are to act ‘with restraint, respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and allow immediate access for international human rights monitors’.
The draft additionally calls for an immediate lifting of restrictions ‘on all forms of media’ and for the safety of foreign nationals to be ensured and their departure facilitated.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Friday had urged the council to adopt ‘concrete action’ to stop the bloodshed in Libya, as the US agreed to order unilateral measures against Gaddafi.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have joined hands to deliver urgent relief assistance to the people of Libya, which is witnessing violent anti-government protests.
At a joint press conference with his visiting Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan Friday announced that two Emirati aid planes would fly Saturday to Turkey and then to Libya to meet the urgent needs of the Libyan people. “The UAE is sending two planes, to be based in Turkey, to send humanitarian aid from Turkey to Libya,” Sheikh Abdullah said. “We will do everything possible to reach out to Libya in humanitarian ways,” the Turkish minister said.
The two ministers also condemned the acts of violence, calling on the Libyan authorities to immediately refrain from the use of violence and act to stop bloodshed.
Pro-democracy demonstrations inspired by the successful revolutions that deposed decades-long rulers in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt have engulfed Libya since February 14. The protesters are demanding the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who came to power 41 years ago in a bloodless military coup.
His son Saif al-Islam has said Muammar Gaddafi would never destroy the country’s oil wells — its main source of wealth — to quash the anti-government protests. As the world’s 12th largest oil exporter, Libya has the potential to unsettle the global economy if its violent anti-government protests disrupt supplies. “We will never demolish the sources of oil. They belong to the people,” Saif told Turkish news channel CNN-Turk Friday.
In an interview translated from English into Turkish on the CNN-Turk website, he said the Gaddafi family had no intention of fleeing Libya, and claimed the government was in control of the west, south and center of the country. “We have plans A, B and C. Plan A is to live and die in Libya. Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya,” Saif said.
He described the anti-government militias as terrorist groups, and said they only had a few hundred men, but had seized tanks, guns, automatic weapons and ammunition.
Anti-government forces have taken control of coastal cities east of the capital Tripoli where fierce fighting was reported to be taking place Friday. An elite brigade commanded by Gaddafi’s son Khamis was believed to be dug in.
Anti-government protesters in Tripoli came under fire Friday as Gaddafi surfaced in the capital, urging supporters to kill those against him.
More than half of Libya’s gross domestic product comes from the oil and natural gas sectors, which also account for more than 95 percent of exports, according to the World Bank.
This article incorporates reports from DPA, WAM and AKI.