NATO offers Libya rescue help as thousands flee

Asian states also stepped up efforts to rescue thousands of people.

Last Updated: Feb 28, 2011, 23:55 PM IST

Rome: Italy`s military prepared to rescue
Italians stranded in southeast Libya today, as NATO offered to
help in a worldwide scramble to evacuate foreign nationals
amid escalating violence there.

"Many countries are evacuating their citizens. Clearly
this is a massive challenge," NATO military alliance chief
Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters during ministerial talks
with the European Union in Hungary.

"I will meet with EU defence ministers to see how in a
pragmatic way we can help those in need," Rasmussen said, as
governments rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of their
citizens from the North African state.

The EU estimates between 2,000 and 3,000 Europeans are
still stranded in Libya even after several EU countries
including Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy and Portugal
deployed planes and ships to pull out their citizens.

Asian states also stepped up efforts to rescue
thousands of people.

The Philippine government said it planned to bring out
13,000 of its citizens via chartered ferries and commercial
flights.

South Korea said it had dispatched chartered jets to
Tripoli and diverted a warship that had been on anti-piracy
duty off Somalia towards Libyan shores.

China National Petroleum Corporation also said some of
its facilities were attacked in the unrest and that it was
trying to evacuate its employees.

Syria said it had evacuated 2,200 of its citizens on
planes and had sent a ship to the eastern Libyan port of
Benghazi to bring out 1,000 more.

A US-chartered ship with 300 passengers also departed
Tripoli on Friday bound for the Mediterranean island of Malta
-- the closest European Union member state to Libyan shores
and a key hub for evacuation efforts.

The British Royal Navy`s HMS Cumberland, which is
carrying 207 passengers, has set sail from Benghazi and is
expected to dock at a military base in Malta at around 1:00 am
(0000 GMT) on Saturday, officials said.

Meanwhile, Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russia
spoke to news channel SkyTG24 about plans to rescue a group of
Italians in southeast Libya.

"We have reports that there are Italians in southeast
Libya who have finished their food supplies. We will rescue
them. I have already agreed the plans for the rescue operation
with the generals in charge," he said.

Bureau Report