ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Governments around the world scrambled on Wednesday to send planes and ships to evacuate their citizens from turmoil in Libya, whose leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to crush a revolt against his 41-year rule.
Fears for the safety of foreigners were heightened after a Turkish worker was shot dead as he climbed a construction crane near the capital Tripoli, according to Turkish officials.
Turkey, with 25,000 citizens in oil-producing Libya, is mounting the biggest evacuation operation in its history, and 21 other governments have asked Ankara for help getting their nationals out, said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
European Union states are evacuating some 10,000 EU citizens from Libya, a spokesman for the EU executive said during a European Commission news briefing.
The U.S. State Department said a 600-passenger chartered ferry was due to leave Tripoli for Malta. There are several thousand Americans living in Libya, most with dual citizenship with about 600 carrying only U.S. passports.
Israel said it would allow 300 Palestinians in Libya to enter Palestinian territories in the coming days.
Witnesses described scenes of chaos as some of the estimated 1.5 million foreigners living in Libya tried to escape the violence. Italy said estimates that about 1,000 people had been killed in the uprising were credible.
Adil Yasar, a Turk who arrived in Istanbul late on Tuesday, said fights broke out at the packed Tripoli airport, where he and others had gone without food and water for two days.
A passenger who landed in Madrid on Wednesday on a Libyan Airlines chartered flight said, “The airport has collapsed.”
Another passenger, Carlos Dominguez of Venezuela, said people in the tense capital were waiting for a stronger global reaction: “People are angry with the international attitude.”
Despite this, Gaddafi’s son said Libyan ports and airports are “all open.”
“Life is normal, the ports, schools and airports are all open. The problem lies in the eastern regions,” Saif al-Islam Gaddafi told Libyan television while touring the station’s offices.
U.S. officials have suggested Washington’s muted response to the violence in Libya was due to fears that Gaddafi could retaliate against Americans in the North African country.
“There are several hundred foreigners trapped across the country. Some of them are in cities that are pretty chaotic and some of them are out in small desert camps,” said John Drake, senior risk consultant at London-based AKE.
“At the moment, Gaddafi seems happy to let them go. The authorities are letting people into the airport if they have tickets. If Western countries took a tougher line with him that could change, but I can’t see that happening.”
Some 3,000 Turks who found sanctuary in a soccer stadium in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising began, set sail for home escorted by a Turkish navy frigate, while two French military planes brought 402 French nationals to Paris.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has warned Gaddafi’s government against taking “cruel steps” to crush the uprising, and called on all sides to ensure the security of foreigners.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini predicted hundreds of thousands of refugees could try to cross the Mediterranean by boat. “This is a prospect that not just Italy but the whole of the European Union should prepare for in the near future,” he said.
Nationals of Lebanon, Syria and Germany and Turkey have joined thousands of Tunisians fleeing Libya across its western border, the International Organization for Migration said.
Libya borders Tunisia and Egypt, both of which have ousted long-time rulers in the past few weeks.
Britain has said it planned to send a charter plane to Libya to bring out Britons, and Germany urged all its citizens to leave the country.
With eastern regions breaking free of Gaddafi’s rule and deadly unrest hitting the capital, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Japan, Russia and Saudi Arabia also sent or were planning to send planes for their nationals.
Spanish oil company Repsol said on Wednesday it was evacuating its workers on a plane carrying 131 passengers. Occidental Petroleum Corp said it evacuated all expatriate employees and their families and that Libyan employees and contractors will keep operations running.
Turkish construction company TAV was trying to arrange the evacuation of its 3,000 Thai and Vietnamese employees.
Greek ships headed to Libya to collect Europeans and 15,000 Chinese and bring them back via the island of Crete. Brazil also was sending a ship to pick up 180 workers and Ukraine and Croatia were sending planes to evacuate their nationals.
Reporting from Reuters bureau; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Philip Barbara