Ottawa to fly Canadians out of Libya

The federal government is sending flights to Libya to rescue stranded Canadians, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday.
Demonstrators marched from the Libyan Embassy to Parliament Hill Tuesday to call again for Moammar Gadhafi's resignation. ((Kate Porter/CBC))

The federal government is sending flights to Libya to rescue stranded Canadians, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday.

Evacuees will be flown to Europe and, as with flights arranged earlier this month to bring home Canadians in Egypt, Canada is working with "like-minded" countries to share flights.

The first plane is expected to arrive in Tripoli, the country's capital, on Thursday.

At a news conference in Ottawa, Cannon said 331 Canadians are registered with the embassy in Tripoli, Libya's capital, and 91 have told Canadian staff they plan to leave.

Canadians in Libya who want to fly out of the country can call the mission at (218 21) 335 1633, or call collect to the operations centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885, Cannon said.

Canadian politicians also came out Tuesday to condemn Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for a violent crackdown against protesters in his country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was outrageous and unacceptable Gadhafi had ordered soldiers to fire on Libyans protesting his brutal rule of more than four decades.

"The government of Canada's position is not just consistent with our allies but with the world community, which has expressed understandable outrage," Harper said.

Reports from the country say Gadhafi even used warplanes to attack the demonstrators who took to the streets to call on him to resign.

Gadhafi refused Tuesday to step down, vowing to die as a martyr. He delivered a furious speech from what appeared to be a bombed-out building and argued protesters are serving the devil.

Harper said the government is staying in touch with Canadians and Canadian companies working in Libya. Cannon wouldn't comment on the possibility of imposing sanctions on the country. He noted other options would become clear in a few days, but that the priority for now is getting Canadians out of the country safely.   Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the protests are a result of Gadhafi ignoring the wishes of his people.

"The brutal attacks on the Libyan people by Libyan security forces are an affront to every standard of human rights," Ignatieff said in a statement.

"The people of Libya are calling for change. Before more innocent civilians are needlessly killed, the [Gadhafi] regime must immediately and unreservedly cease its lethal tactics and listen to the will of the people."

NDP Leader Jack Layton urged the Canadian government to "unequivocally" express its support for democracy in Libya.

"Authorities have been engaged in atrocities against the country's civilian population. New Democrats condemn the Libyan regime’s use of deadly force — including military aircraft — against civilians," Layton said in a statement Tuesday.

"Canada should also be working with its international partners to bring the issue to the UN Security Council and work to establish a no-fly zone in Libya's airspace," he added.

Canadians in Libya

The Department of Foreign Affairs was telling Canadians in Libya to leave if it's safe to do so, and for anyone contemplating travel there to cancel.

The Tripoli International Airport is still open but flights and services may be disrupted, and the airport may close on short notice, a statement on the department's website warns. The airport in the city of Benghazi, where some of the protests were happening, is closed.

Suncor, a Calgary-based energy company, is reportedly evacuating its Canadian employees. In a statement Tuesday, a spokesman said employees remaining in Libya are in safe locations, but to protect their security, the company wouldn't give any more details.

There are about 500 Canadians in Libya, including about 50 who work in the energy sector. Suncor, a Calgary-based energy company, reportedly evacuated its Canadian employees Monday and Tuesday.

Pure Technologies of Calgary said it's preparing to evacuate 14 people, but says all are safe. The company operates a series of pipelines that supply most of Libya's drinking water. It's one of the biggest man-made irrigation systems in the world.

Libya is one of several countries in the Middle East and North Africa that has seen massive protests against undemocratic leaders in the past month.

In Ottawa, about 100 demonstrators marched from the Libyan embassy to Parliament Hill to deliver the message that Gadhafi’s words would not stop them from calling for his resignation. Ottawa’s Libyan community had rallied outside their embassy Monday as well.

They were joined Tuesday by people from as far away as Edmonton and Calgary.

"Everybody assumed this, I guess, that he would be the most stubborn dictator in the Middle East, and a lot of Libyans were worried about this," said protester Taha Zarrug.

"His speech today was expected. Some things were shocking — he said he hadn’t started using bullets yet. That’s outrageous."