Thursday, February 24, 2011

Canadians' Libyan exodus delayed

Canadians' Libyan exodus delayed

Boat held back by heavy weather, 1st Canadian aircraft to arrive Thursday

The departure of a group of Canadians fleeing the growing violence in Libya has been delayed by poor weather.

Twenty-six Canadians were part of a contingent including Americans and British passengers who boarded a U.S.-charted ferry that was to depart for Malta. The ferry was reported to have almost 600 people on board.

Heavy seas, however, delayed the ferry's departure.

"Citizens are safe on board," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley tweeted. "It will leave when the weather permits."

Another seven Canadians were said to have boarded a private charter boat to leave Benghazi, about 650 kilometres east of Tripoli.

Other countries, including India, Britain, France, Turkey, Italy and Serbia were also scrambling to get their citizens out of Libya as fighting increased between anti-government protesters and supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The Canadian government said it will start flying Canadians out of Libya on Thursday. A government source said a flight originating in Rome will land in Tripoli around noon local time, and depart for Rome at 4 p.m. local time. The flight will have a capacity of 220 people, and passengers will be charged a fare of $500 each.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was expected to be on hand to greet the Canadians arriving in Rome.

A second flight is planned for Friday, with arrival and departure times still to be confirmed, the government source said.

If Canadians don't fill the flights, the Canadian government is willing to take other nationals out.

The government is also working with countries such as France to get Canadians aboard their flights.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it is calling the 331 Canadians who have registered at the embassy in Tripoli. So far, 165 have indicated they want to leave the country.

The department is sending eight additional staff to Libya to help with evacuation efforts.
Stranded in Benghazi

Meanwhile, a group of 15 Canadian workers hunkered down in a bunker in Benghazi. The airport in Benghazi is shut down, and it is unclear how those workers will make their way to Tripoli.

One option may be the Turkish ships that have been ferrying thousands of people from the ports at Benghazi and Tripoli.

On Wednesday, CBC News received an email from one of the Canadians stranded in Libya. CBC News is not naming his exact location because of concerns for his safety. He said he has no access to a working phone but has secured an internet connection.

The man, who is from Vancouver, said he is in a fenced compound at an airport. He said he feels safer now that a band of Libyan freedom fighters is patrolling at night.

He said gunfire typically can be heard starting at about 7 p.m. and continuing until about 4 a.m.

The Libyan military has set up anti-aircraft guns at the airport to prevent foreign planes from landing.

An engineer with a Canadian company with operations in Libya, the man told CBC News he believes his employer is working with the Canadian government to get him out.

He said he was robbed of most of his food on the first night but managed to keep about four days' worth. There is a limited supply of bottled water, he added.

He estimated about 2,500 people stranded at the airport.