Turkey evacuates hundreds of citizens from Libya after threat from general

TRIPOLI Tue Jun 24, 2014 12:07pm EDT

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Turkey has been evacuating hundreds of citizens from Libya after a threat from a renegade general fighting Islamists in the east, Ankara's embassy and airport officials said on Tuesday.

On Sunday, retired general Khalifa Haftar called on Turks and Qataris to leave anarchic eastern Libya within two days, accusing both their countries of supporting "terrorism".

Haftar has declared war on Islamist militants in eastern Libya, deepening turmoil in the oil-producing state where the government is unable to control armed groups which helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but defy state authority.

"Four hundred and twenty Turkish workers were evacuated today from Misrata International Airport ... due to the threats coming from the east that have been made by Khalifa Haftar's forces," said Mohamed Ismail, the airport's spokesman.

The Turks were flown out by Turkish Airlines, he said, adding that they had worked for a power plant in the central city of Sirte.

A Turkish embassy official said the Turks had not felt safe anymore and that another 140 would be flown out from Labraq airport near Benghazi, the main city in the east. Benghazi airport has been closed for security reasons since mid-May.

Turkey and Qatar both have supported the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement which has been declared a "terrorist" organization by Egypt and Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Turkey moved staff from its Benghazi consulate to the Libyan capital Tripoli earlier this month for security reasons.

The Tripoli government says Haftar has no authority to act but its orders are routinely ignored in much of Libya, above all in the east where Islamists, tribes and militias vie for control.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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