Effort to evacuate Irish in Libya criticised

THE Department of Foreign Affairs is facing growing criticism over its botched evacuation of Irish citizens from Libya, after it emerged it has failed to contact all of those still trapped in the chaotic scenes.

As the north African country descends further into anarchy and has become the subject of US sanctions threats, a department spokesperson last night confirmed 21 Irish people remain stranded in the capital, Tripoli.

While 12 citizens who were based in the eastern opposition-controlled city of Benghazi were all evacuated by sea yesterday, six more continue to face genuine danger in other parts of the country.

Of these six, only three are the subject of current rescue plans.

As the crisis — which has also trapped an estimated 3,600 EU citizens in Libya and led to hundreds of deaths — became the subject of increased UN and US discussions over a possible international response, Irish officials attempting to bring citizens to safety were forced to leave again last night.

Three members of the Department of Foreign Affairs emergency consular assistance team travelled to Tripoli airport yesterday morning to identify Irish people seeking to escape.

However, after setting up inside the airport they made a decision to leave on board a Canadian flight for Malta last night because there was no indication any Irish people were at the airport.

The officials are due to return to Tripoli again today.

A spokesperson said “it is likely” an unknown number of Irish people still in Libya may have been able to leave, but said some of those contacted who need help are “unwilling or unable to risk travelling to the airport”.

The department’s response to the situation has been heavily criticised by a number of Irish who fled from the Libyan crisis, with some saying they were advised to book flights online, use their common sense, or travel to tourist agencies to obtain tickets out of the chaos.

This was despite those who fled the country insisting the internet had been blocked and it was unsafe to travel to tourist agencies.

However, speaking on RTÉ News, Marie Cross, assistant secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said everything that could be done was being done to help those seeking rescue.

The row emerged as reports said Libyan government forces in Tripoli shot dead two more protesters of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Al Jazeera television said two people had been killed and several wounded in heavy shooting in several districts. Another channel, Al Arabiya, said seven people had been killed.

Gaddafi was also shown on Libyan state television last night apparently addressing tens of thousands of supporters massed on Tripoli’s Green Square.

“We will fight if they want,” he said, gesturing from a high stone wall.

“We are ready to triumph over the enemy. We will defeat any foreign attempt, as we have defeated Italian colonialism and American raids.”

* FOCionnaith.direct@examiner.ie

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