Airplanes arrive in Libya to collect Greeks

Two military transport planes from Greece arrived in Libya on Thursday to help bring back dozens of Greeks seeking to flee the troubled country, as thousands of Chinese workers who were evacuated on Greek passenger ships began to arrive in Crete.

One C-130 airplane touched down in the Libyan capital Tripoli and the other in the southwestern city of Sabha. The Foreign Ministry said that it would try to evacuate as many of the 300 or so Greeks working in Libya as possible, although many of them were at building sites in remote parts of the country and faced a challenge to get to either airport.

It was not clear when the airplanes would be flying back to Greece as they need to receive permission from Libyan authorities to take off.

Some Greeks, however, have vowed not to leave Libya, which has been gripped by clashes between pro-democracy protesters and the security forces of Colonel Muammar Gadhafi. The Orthodox Bishop of Tripoli, Theofylaktos, said that some 20 Greek families living in Tripoli were not thinking about leaving. ?We are all well and are watching developments with cool heads,? he said, adding that the situation was worse in Benghazi. ?The city has been taken over by protesters but the head of the Greek community, which consists of about 100 people, told me that everyone is safe.?

Some Greeks were aboard the two ferries that arrived in Iraklio, Crete, on Thursday after picking up several thousand passengers from the port city of Benghazi. ?The situation was pretty bad over there? we heard lots of gunfire and saw many burnt-out buildings,? Pantelis Kimendiadis told The Associated Press.

However, the ships – the Hellenic Spirit and Olympic Champion – also carried passengers of various other nationalities as Greece has agreed to act as a hub for those trying to flee Libya and to help them reach home after arriving on Crete.

The majority of passengers were Chinese. It is estimated that there were some 4,500 Chinese oil and construction workers on the vessels. Greece is helping China evacuate up to 15,000 of its citizens from Libya.

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