India has begun evacuating its citizens early Saturday from violence-stricken Libya by sending two Air India planes to the north African country’s capital Tripoli.
“Two planes, one from Mumbai and one from Delhi, left for Tripoli at around 1:30 a.m., reached Tripoli by afternoon and passengers have begun boarding,” a senior Air India official told IANS. 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.
According to the Air India official, both the planes were expected to bring back around 700 passengers. “We have sent one Boeing 747 Jumbo and another Airbus A330 for the evacuation,” the official added.
Describing the situation in Libya as ‘very grave’, External Affairs Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna had Friday said India was closely watching the developments in the region hit by unrest and advocated democracy in the fast-changing scenario. Denying that the government had been slow in responding to the situation, the minister had said that two Indian aircraft will be reaching Tripoli soon.
The minister had also denied allegations that the government was charging passengers for the evacuation and cautioned people against those trying to exploit the situation.
The government has also chartered a 1,200-seat passenger ferry, which is on its way to Benghazi. The Scotia Prince is expected to dock at Benghazi on Monday and ferry over 1,200 people to Alexandria on Wednesday. Air India flights will thereafter fly them to India. Another ship, which has a capacity of around 750, will be deployed to carry Indians from Benghazi to Alexandria, from where they will be flown home, sources said. The Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) is in the process for chartering the ship.
An Indian Air Force IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft is also on standby to meet additional transportation requirements wherever needed, the ministry said.
Around 150 Indian nationals from Tobruk in Libya are likely to travel by road to Salloum which is near the border with Egypt. They are being assisted by the Indian embassy and are likely to cross over in two batches on Feb 26 and 28. At Salloum, they would be met by Indian embassy personnel from Cairo. Arrangements are being made for their travel onwards by road to Cairo and then by air to India.
Meanwhile, two Indian Navy warships, the Delhi-class guided missile destroyer, INS Mysore and the Austin-class amphibious transport dock INS Jalashwa slipped their moorings in Mumbai on Saturday and are underway for Alexandria, which they expect to reach in a little over a week. This is not the first time the Indian Navy has been involved in an operation of this scale. Indian Navy warships evacuated 2,280 people, including 700 Indians, in Operation Sukoon, during the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006 .
There are at least 18,000 Indians in Libya, including an estimated 3,000 in Benghazi, where the airport has been rendered unusable due to the fighting.
China has evacuated 12,000 of its nationals from Libya and is reported to have deployed a missile frigate, Xuzhou, to the country, diverting it from its anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. India too has a frigate on anti-piracy patrol in the gulf, but has no plans to move it towards Libya.
The US has also US has evacuated all of its diplomats and temporarily shut down its embassy in the capital Tripoli. “Given current security conditions in Libya, coupled with our inability to guarantee fully the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel in the country, the Department of State has temporarily withdrawn embassy personnel from Tripoli and suspended all embassy operations effective February 25, 2011,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was quoted as saying in a statement by ABC News.
The announcement came just after a US government chartered flight carrying the remaining American diplomats took off from an airfield near downtown Tripoli, bound for Istanbul, Turkey.
Embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi Friday made an unexpected appearance in Tripoli’s Green Square, greeting a crowd of his supporters in a show of strength that he still had control over the capital. “We will die here on the soil of Libya. We will defeat foreign attempts as we did the former Italian imperialism,” he said waving the Libyan flag, DPA reported.
“We can defeat any aggression if necessary and arm the people,” Gaddafi said, in footage that was aired by Libyan state television Friday. “You, the youth, be comfortable… dance, sing, stay up all night,” he said, Al Jazeera reported.
With inputs from DPA and the StratPost News Desk.