Filipinos returning home amid Libya violence
Tripoli - The Philippines was preparing on Thursday to evacuate 13 000 citizens from Libya as violence raged and after a Filipino worker was beheaded and a nurse was gang-raped there.
Greece is also sending a warship to evacuate some of its citizens as well as people from other countries.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario was heading to neighbouring Tunisia to organise an evacuation as fighting resumed between militias seeking to control the Libyan capital's crippled international airport.
Del Rosario said he was repeating a 2011 mission that evacuated thousands of Filipino workers during the uprising that toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
"Our major challenge, as in 2011, is to convince our folks that they must leave Libya at the soonest time to avoid the perils of a highly exacerbating situation there," he told reporters in Manila.
The Philippines ordered an evacuation on 20 July, hours after the discovery in the eastern city of Benghazi of the beheaded remains of a Filipino construction worker who had been abducted.
Manila also imposed a travel ban to the North African country, which has been plagued by violence since Gaddafi's overthrow.
On Wednesday, a Filipina nurse was abducted by a gang of youths outside her residence in Tripoli and gang-raped before being released two hours later, the foreign department said.
Despite the dangers, del Rosario said many of the Filipinos, mostly employed in construction and hospitals, are refusing to leave because they would be unemployed back home.
Only a few more than 700 had left Libya by Wednesday, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation, as warring militias battle for control of key population centres.
Del Rosario said he is flying to Tunisia's Djerba island to "try to convince our people to leave [Libya] because the situation there is very dangerous.
"We are in the process of engaging ships from Malta that would pick up our people from Benghazi, Misrata and hopefully Tripoli then return to Malta for air transport to Manila," he said.
While each vessel could carry up to 1 500 people, he said the government was still negotiating safe passage through these ports.
Failing that, the Filipinos would be bused to Tunisia, where flight arrangements would be made, he added.
In Athens, meanwhile, an official said a navy frigate was en route to Libya to evacuate some 200 people, including diplomatic staff.
These include around 70 Greeks, some 15 Cypriots and 80 Chinese, in addition to other nationalities.
"There are a lot of requests but capacity on the frigate is limited," the official said.
Del Rosario could not have flown in to Tripoli if he had wanted to, because the airport was knocked out of commission by fighting earlier this month.
Another round of clashes erupted on Thursday, airport security chief Al-Jilani al-Dahech told AFP, with attackers assaulting the facility using both small arms and heavy weapons.
Dahech said some of his men had been wounded, but gave no details.
At least 100 people have reportedly been killed and 400 wounded since July 13 when the airport battle erupted.
Witnesses said there was also fighting on the road to the airport and in a western suburb of the capital on Thursday, while numerous explosions were heard in the city centre.
The Tripoli clashes, the most violent since Gaddafi's ousting, began with an assault on the airport by a coalition of groups, mainly Islamists, which has since been backed by fighters from third city Misrata.
The attackers are battling to flush out fellow former rebels from the hill town of Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, who have controlled the airport for the past three years.
The United States, Canada, France and Brazil have temporarily shuttered their embassies in Tripoli, while several Western countries and Egypt have advised their citizens to leave immediately.
Meanwhile, fire fighters were still battling a blaze at a fuel depot near the airport that broke out on Sunday when a rocket hit a storage tank.
More than 90 million litres of fuel are stored in the facility, which also houses a natural gas reservoir.