24/02/2011

Irish Military Plane To Return To Tripoli

An Irish Defence Force's plane that was yesterday sent away from Libya and was unable to rescue stranded Irish nationals in the turbulent country, is now on the way back.

The Air Corps Learjet spent four hours at Tripoli airport on Wednesday night before Libyan security officials forced the plane to depart.

The aircraft returned to Valetta in Malta and is expected to return to the Libyan capital to resume the evacuation on Thursday.

The Defence Forces had been tasked with providing the evacuation of approximately 40 Irish citizens from Libya as the country continues to be gripped by national unrest.

The jet departed Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel at 8.40pm on Wednesday and an Air Corps CASA aircraft was also due to depart at 10.00pm.

Both Aircraft flew to Valletta, Malta from where they were on stand-by to fly to Tripoli to conduct the evacuation operation if required. Only one plane was dispatched, but returned empty.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Irish contingent was prevented from boarding by Libyan security.

According to reports this morning, there are about 70 Irish people that the department is in contact with in Libya, 54 of them are in the Tripoli area and the majority are at the airport.
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Libyan protestors have been calling for Muammar Gaddafi to step down as Libyan leader for over a week despite infuriated and bizarre threats from the dictator who has been in power for over 41 years.

Gaddafi is struggling to maintain his authority in the country, as major swathes of territory in the east of the vast North African country now appear to be under the control of pro-democracy protesters.

His power in the country has crumbled in recent days with the defection of high-profile officials, and major elements of his army, leading to the fall of the country's second largest city, Benghazi, falling to protestors.

However, Gaddafi's assertions he would fight until the "last man standing" are holding, as a Libyan army unit loyal to Gaddafi blasted the minaret of a mosque being occupied by protesters in Az-Zawiya, according to middle eastern news network, Al Jazzeera. Witnesses told the network that protesters had sustained heavy casualties in the attack, but exact figures on casualties or deaths remain unclear.

According to the Reuters news agency, pro-Gaddafi forces also attacked the town of Misrata, which was under the control of protesters. Similar clashes have also been reported in the cities of Sabha in the south, and Sabratha, near Tripoli, which is in the west.

(DW)

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