France, Britain and Spain have started repatriating their nationals from Libya as clashes there intensify, while EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels to coordinate Europe’s response.
Speaking in Brussels today (21 February), UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain expected Libya to ensure the protection of foreigners.
“We want to see proper protection for foreign nationals in Libya and in particular assistance for them as they are trying to leave the country,” Hague said as he arrived for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (21 February).
“Those who are able to leave safely should leave by commercial means. That situation is constantly under review. We will assess the needs for evacuations as things progress,” he said.
Two European oil companies, BP and Statoil, began pulling employees out of Libya today, while Portugal sent a plane to pick up its citizens and other EU nationals, according to a report in USA Today. Meanwhile, Turkey sent a sent two ferries to pick up stranded construction workers.
“We are extremely concerned, we are coordinating the possible evacuation of EU citizens coming from Libya, especially from Benghazi,” said Trinidad Jimenez, Spain’s foreign minister.
Laurent Wauquiez, French secretary of state for European affairs, said Paris had already organised the repatriation of 46 nationals from the Eastern city of Benghazi to the capital Tripoli.
“The top priority is safety,” he told journalists in Brussels. “Our embassy is also trying to assist people who leave Libya by their own means.”
EU will not tolerate ‘blackmail’
But he said the evacuation procedures were being “complicated by the fact that Libyan authorities are imposing an exit visa” on foreigners attempting to leave the country.
“In this context, what is recommended is to avoid all gatherings,” Wauquiez said, adding that it was “very strongly recommended to avoid taking pictures or films in order to avoid exposure to dangerous situations”.
Wauquiez urged those living in the eastern part of Libya to exercise particular caution. “We recommend French residents in Cyrenaica – or those travelling in the area – to leave this region.”
The Frenchman rejected threats by Tripoli, voiced yesterday, to suspend cooperation with the EU on stemming illegal migration to the bloc if the Union encourages pro-democracy protests in Libya.
“There should not be any state blackmail,” Wauquiez warned. “And it is clear that Europe will not stop expressing itself.”