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New Libya parliament meets amid ongoing violence
by Staff Writers
Benghazi, Libya (AFP) Aug 02, 2014

British navy evacuates nationals from Libya
London (AFP) Aug 03, 2014 - A British navy ship evacuated British nationals from Libya on Sunday, the defence ministry said, as worsening security there is forcing thousands to flee.

The HMS Enterprise, which had been on a Mediterranean deployment, evacuated 110 people, mostly British, from the capital Tripoli, ambassador to Libya Michael Aron wrote on Twitter.

"A number of passengers were transferred to Enterprise by boat and given supplies for the journey," the ministry said in a statement.

The 91-metre (297-foot) survey ship, also designed to support amphibious operations, is expected to arrive in nearby Malta on Monday.

Britain is also planning to temporarily suspend its embassy operations in the troubled north African country, the Foreign Office said.

Sunday's operation resembles one conducted in 2011 during the bloody uprising that ousted the dictator Moamer Kadhafi, when a Royal Navy ship evacuated foreigners.

Ambassador Aron has said he has "reluctantly" decided to leave due to the worsening local clashes.

"Fighting in #Tripoli worse today.Oil tanks hit again.Fighting in civilian areas.Ordinary people suffering.Militias destroying the city," he wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Libya has suffered chronic insecurity since Kadhafi's overthrow, with the new government unable to check militias that helped to remove him and facing a growing threat from Islamist groups.

Fighting between the rival militias has forced the closure of Tripoli's international airport, while Islamist groups are battling army special forces in the eastern city of Benghazi.

In the past week, many countries have ordered their citizens to leave and, in some cases, have evacuated them.

Between 100 and 300 Britons are thought to be in Libya. Many British consular staff were evacuated last Monday.

"Fighting has intensified in Tripoli, including around the British embassy compounds," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

"In the light of the deteriorating security situation, we are taking steps temporarily to suspend operations at the British embassy in Tripoli after the planned assisted departure of British nationals," he said.

"We advise against all travel to Libya and urge British nationals in Libya to leave through commercially available means."

Hundreds of Chinese evacuated from Libya: Xinhua
Beijing (AFP) Aug 02, 2014 - More than 400 Chinese nationals were evacuated from Libya on Saturday, state media said, after hundreds of their compatriots fled the country as the violence there escalated.

Libya is descending into a civil war spiral that is "much worse" than the unrest that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, residents fleeing the country told AFP.

Vehicles carrying 411 Chinese workers evacuated from Libya's capital Tripoli crossed the border into Tunisia early Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A further 97 Chinese workers were expected to arrive at the border crossing later Saturday, it cited Chinese diplomats as saying.

The Chinese embassy organised the evacuation of more than 700 Chinese nationals out of the Libya late last week, Xinhua added.

An AFP photographer on Saturday saw Chinese nationals evacuated from Libya arriving aboard the Greek navy frigate Salamis at the port of Piraeus in Athens.

China issued warnings to its nationals in Libya last Monday, urging them to leave the country "as soon as possible," citing the deteriorating security situation.

Libya has suffered chronic insecurity since the overthrow of Kadhafi, with the new government unable to check militias that helped to remove him and facing a growing threat from Islamist groups.

Libya's new nationalist-dominated parliament held its first meeting Saturday, boycotted by Islamists, in a sign of deep divisions still plaguing a violence-racked country from which thousands are fleeing.

The parliament, elected June 25, is to take over from the interim General National Congress (GNC) chosen in the wake of the 2011 NATO-backed revolution that ousted longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

It was to have convened in Benghazi on Monday, but the meeting was brought forward and shifted to Tobruk farther east for security reasons.

Both Benghazi and the capital, Tripoli, are the scene of regular fighting that has killed more than 200 people and wounded another 1,000 in the past two weeks.

Growing security problems have prompted thousands of people to flee, mostly overland to neighbouring Tunisia, and numerous countries to close their embassies and urge their citizens to leave.

Tripoli airport has stayed closed since gunmen, mostly Islamists, attacked it on July 13 in a bid to wrest control from the Zintan brigade of former rebels who have held it since the 2011 revolt.

The brigade's opponents view it as the armed wing of the nationalist movement, and the battle is seen as part of a struggle for political influence as the new parliament prepares to assume office.

Ever since Kadhafi was ousted and killed, the new authorities have struggled in vain to rein in the many militias which have carved out their own fiefdoms and often clash.

Fighting at the airport resumed in earnest Saturday after relative calm on Friday, with explosions and gunfire heard as far away as the city centre.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

- 4th fuel tank hit -

A blaze at a fuel depot near the airport erupted last Sunday when a rocket hit a storage tank.

A civil defence official on Saturday reported progress in putting out the fire engulfing three tanks and threatening more than 90 million litres of fuel, as well as natural gas stocks.

But later a fourth tank was hit by a rocket and set ablaze, said Mohamed al-Hrari, spokesman for the National Oil Co.

Benghazi, the scene of regular clashes between Islamists and forces backing a retired general who has launched an offensive against them, was relatively quiet Saturday.

During the meeting in Tobruk, presiding MP Abu Bakr Biira issued a call for reconciliation between rival factions, saying: "We want to unite the homeland and put our differences to one side."

He said Saturday's closed-door gathering, boycotted by Islamists, was purely consultative and that a formal inaugural session would be held on Monday, also in Tobruk.

And he said that 160 of the 180 members of the new parliament had made their way to Tobruk, 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from the capital, near the Egyptian border.

It was not possible to independently confirm that number.

But while outgoing GNC president Nuri Abu Sahmein also said the inaugural session would be held Monday, he insisted the venue was Tripoli.

The international community has pressed the new legislature to move quickly to assume power amid continuing turmoil.

Analysts say most of the seats in the new assembly were won by nationalist factions, who complain that the defeated Islamists are stirring trouble to delay the new legislature taking over.

- 'Worse than under Kadhafi' -

In response to the growing chaos, thousands of people have fled the country.

On Friday, Libyan guards fired warning shots to keep back a crowd of people, mostly Egyptian labourers, trying to enter Tunisia, which shut the border crossing at Ras Jedir.

The frontier post was reopened on Saturday and several hundred people managed to cross.

Egypt's ambassador in Tunis, Ayman Musharafa, announced that Cairo would fly home from Tunisia its citizens who were allowed to enter the country.

More than 400 workers from China on Saturday joined the evacuations, crossing to Tunisia in a convoy of cars, Chinese media said.

Earlier this week, Greece sent a naval frigate to Libya to evacuate nearly 200 of its own citizens as well as people from other countries.

Paraskevi Athineou, a Greek woman living in Libya, told AFP after the vessel docked in the Greek port of Piraeus that "we have gone through (war) before, with Kadhafi, but now it's much worse."

And in Manila, oil worker Michael Atalan, 37, said after being repatriated: "It was difficult. There were explosions night and day."


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