February 25, 2011 / 5:09 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. considers closing embassy in Tripoli

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is considering closing its embassy in Tripoli amid violence between supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and anti-government protesters, a U.S. official said on Friday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the move was being considered but no decision had been made.

The United States and Libya only restored full diplomatic relations in May 2006, and any move to close the U.S. embassy in Tripoli could mark a sharp escalation in tensions between the two countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called Gaddafi’s bloody suppression of anti-government protesters “outrageous,” and U.S. officials say they are considering all options, including possible sanctions or military action, to respond.

A U.S.-chartered ferry carrying hundreds of Americans and other evacuees left Tripoli for Malta on Friday after being delayed by high winds and choppy seas.

The ferry is carrying more than 300 people, more than half of whom are Americans.

It was originally scheduled to leave on Wednesday but had been delayed by bad weather and U.S. officials said Washington’s measured response to the Libya crisis was due in part to its focus on ensuring the safety of American citizens.

Separately, the State Department said a chartered aircraft would depart from a Tripoli airfield on Friday bound for Istanbul and that seats were available for U.S. citizens on a first-come basis.

The State Department on Thursday urged U.S. citizens to depart from Libya immediately. Officials have said that some Americans working for private companies had been evacuated by their employers, while others have left on commercial flights.

Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Eric Beech

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