Turkey evacuated 3 000 Turks on two ships from the chaos of Libya's popular uprising, but thousands of foreigners remained stranded at the country's main airport awaiting flights home, forcing the US to seek evacuation of its citizens by sea. Photo: Reuters

Turkey evacuated 3,000 Turks on two ships from the chaos of Libya's popular uprising on Wednesday, but thousands of foreigners remained stranded at the country's main airport awaiting flights home, forcing the US to seek evacuation of its citizens by sea.

The Turkish commercial ships, which left from the Libyan port of Benghazi, are being escorted by a navy frigate, and the first one was expected to reach the Mediterranean port of Marmaris around midnight, the Foreign Ministry said. Turkey dispatched another commercial ship to Libya early Wednesday.

Turkey has about 25,000 citizens and more than 200 companies involved in construction projects in Libya worth more than $15

billion. Some of the construction sites came under attack by protesters, but no Turkish citizen has been harmed, authorities said. Turkey has now evacuated more than 5,000 of its citizens from Libya, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said.

A Bulgaria Air plane, carrying 110 Bulgarians and six Romanians from Tripoli - most of whom are medical and construction workers - arrived in Sofia.

“I saw horror,” a nurse who gave only her first name, Polly, told reporters upon her arrival in Sofia.

Some passengers said they heard gunfights while others speculated the situation could stabilize soon.

“We decided to return because the situation is unstable. When we left Tripoli there was some kind of euphoria, everybody was celebrating some kind of victory,” engineer Natalia Vakova said. “But that's Libya -absolutely unpredictable.”

On Tuesday, British Airways and Emirates, the Middle East's largest airline, said they were canceling flights to Tripoli because of the violence there. Several countries including Turkey, Germany and Ukraine dispatched more planes Wednesday to evacuate their citizens.

The US State Department said that Americans would be evacuated from Libya by ferry to the Mediterranean island of Malta on Wednesday.

“The airport was mobbed, you wouldn't believe the number of people,” Kathleen Burnett, of Baltimore, Ohio, said on Tuesday as she stepped off an Austrian Airlines flight from Tripoli to Vienna. “It was total chaos.”

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has urged his supporters to strike back against the Libyan protesters in an escalation of a crackdown that has led to widespread shooting in the streets. Nearly 300

people have been killed in the nationwide wave of anti-government protests.

Unease over the safety of US citizens intensified after attempts to get some of them out on Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful.

In a notice sent to US citizens in Libya late Tuesday, the US State Department said Americans wishing to leave Libya in the government-chartered ferry should be at the As-shahab port in Tripoli with their passports starting at 9 a.m. local time Wednesday. The ferry will depart for Malta no later than 3pm local time.

Elsewhere, Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Christoph Prommersberger said a Dutch KDC-10 air force transport plane left Tripoli late Tuesday with 32 Dutch evacuees and 50 other nationalities.

“What we hear from our people is it is chaotic but functioning,” he said of the Tripoli airport.

Britain said it was redeploying a warship, the HMS Cumberland, off the Libyan coast for a possible sea-borne evacuation of British citizens stuck in the north African country.

Libya is one of the world's biggest oil producers, and many oil companies also were evacuating their expatriate workers and their families. -

Sapa-AP