U.S. unable to move its diplomats from Libya Tuesday

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 22, 2011 2:30pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said it had been unable to move any of its nonessential U.S. diplomats and embassy family members out of Libya on Tuesday and expected them to depart in coming days.

Witnesses streaming out of Libya into Egypt said Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi used tanks, warplanes and mercenaries to try to crush protests against his 41-year rule.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday demanded that Libya immediately stop what she called "this unacceptable bloodshed" in the latest of a series of popular uprising against autocratic rulers in the Arab world.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley echoed Clinton's comments but did not go further.

"This is ultimately and fundamentally an issue between the Libyan government, its leader and the Libyan people," he told reporters. "We have grave concerns about the Libyan response to these protesters. We continue to be guided by our fundamental principles: we don't want to see any further violence."

Crowley said there were about 35 nonessential U.S. embassy employees and family members who the State Department ordered to leave the country on Monday because of the violence.

Crowley said the United States was looking at various ways to move them, and other Americans, out of Libya and did not explain in detail why it was unable to do so on Tuesday.

The spokesman responded cautiously when asked if the United States was afraid that harsher U.S. criticism of Gaddafi for the violence against protesters might lead Libya to retaliate by making it hard for U.S. citizens to leave.

"We obviously are concerned about the safety of our citizens. We are working with the Libyan government. They have pledged to support us in our evacuation and we hope that cooperation will be forthcoming," he said.

He said that for the time being the United States was trying to put U.S. citizens on regular commercial flights out of the country and that it had charter flights on standby to go to Libya if that was necessary.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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