Canadians rescued in Libya by foreign air charters
Published Thursday, February 24, 2011 11:16PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:01AM EDT
Most of the Canadians stranded at the airport in the Libyan capital of Tripoli have been evacuated thanks to planes hired by other countries, senior government officials said Thursday.
Approximately 200 Canadians had been stranded at the airport in Tripoli, but they left aboard aircraft chartered by the U.S., Britain and Spain.
"We are all working together to get our citizens out of Libya," said Dimitri Soudas, the communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"At this time, almost all Canadians, if not every single Canadian that was at the airport to depart, has been evacuated, but the job is not over," Soudas told CTV's Power Play.
He added that a C-17 military transport plane had been ordered to Libya to evacuate Canadian passengers stuck in the chaotic capital. A charter flight will also depart Jordan on Friday to pick up any Canadians in Libya.
The move represents a so-called "Plan-B" after an earlier charter flight was grounded when insurance coverage became a problem.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, speaking in Rome Thursday, also announced that planes from other countries had evacuated Canadians from Libya.
But the government is still waiting for landing rights approval from Libya before the C-17 can land, however.
Harper was also considering diverting Gov.-Gen. David Johnston's plane to Libya for the same purpose, said CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife.
Johnston is currently in Rome, and is scheduled for visits to Kuwait and Qatar beginning Friday.
It's also possible Canada will send ships to stage an evacuation by sea, from Tripoli and Benghazi.
There are also Canadian companies operating in the North African country: Suncor Energy, which is headquartered in Calgary, and Montreal-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, which is building a prison.
Canada is just one of many countries trying to evacuate citizens from Libya, but Mother Nature has set up some roadblocks.
Hundreds of Americans were stranded on a ferry that was unable to leave Tripoli's port due to rough weather. Further east, two ships were able to leave carrying 4,500 Chinese en route to Crete.
There are 30,000 Chinese in Libya working on construction and oil projects.
A Greek ship was able to sail from Benghazi to Crete, and arrived safely on Thursday.
CTV's Middle East Bureau Chief Martin Seemungal, reporting from Rome, said Canadians in Tripoli had been told for days to make their way to the airport.
However, they faced a dangerous dilemma. The risk is so great in Tripoli, he said, that many are torn between staying holed up in a safe place, and taking the risk of travelling through the city.
More than 1,000 people have reportedly been killed in the violence.
"Moving around Tripoli at this point in time would be extremely dangerous and you can understand why they would want to stay in their homes, at least there they have a measure of safety," Seemungal said.
"Going out in the streets right now with these pro-Gadhafi militias and loyalist troops wandering around, which are very, very angry at all foreigners, would be a very dangerous undertaking."
Col. Moammar Gadhafi's influence had been whittled down to parts of Tripoli, where he was holed up with a group of loyalist fighters Thursday morning.
Members of the rebellion against Gadhafi's 40-year rule have taken near complete control of the eastern half of Libya, according to reports.
Ottawa dragging its heels, say critics
Opposition critics have said that Canada's response to the crisis has been lacklustre, and the evacuation plans have been hampered by a lack of consular personnel on the ground in Libya.
In reference to allied flights taking Canadians out of Libya, foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said "thank goodness for the kindness of friends."
While Rae conceded that the situation on the ground is chaotic, he said that the government's reaction to the crisis has been slow and ineffectual.
In addition, Rae told CTV's Power Play that the government has been all but silent on the events gripping the Middle East over the past weeks.
"It would be very hard to know what Canada's position was," he said.