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Canadians in Libya on way out: Cannon

Nearly 200 Canadians stranded in Libya have been — or are about to be — safely evacuated, including those who were waiting at the airport in Tripoli, Canada's foreign affairs minister says.

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Nearly 200 Canadians stranded in Libya have been — or are about to be — safely evacuated, including those who were waiting at the airport in Tripoli, Canada's foreign affairs minister says.

"We have arranged for the evacuation of Canadians on a number of flights and boats chartered by allies such as the United Kingdom, Spain, and the United States," Lawrence Cannon said in a statement issued from Rome on Thursday.

"Our goal is to get Canadians out. Safely. By any means possible."

Canadian citizens in Libya requiring emergency consular assistance or wanting to leave Libya should contact the Canadian embassy in Tripoli at 218 (21) 335-1633 (dial 011 from Canada), or call Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada's Emergency Operations Centre at 613-996-8885. They may also send an email to sos@international.gc.ca.

Cannon confirmed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had diverted a C-17 aircraft, which can carry 156 passengers, to assist with the evacuation.

Government sources told CBC News that the C-17, which originated in Germany, will wait in Rome for Libya to issue diplomatic clearances before flying to Tripoli. No military personnel are on board.

Also, a charter flight left Amman, Jordan, at 2:30 p.m. ET (9:30 p.m. local time), and is expected to arrive in Tripoli at 6:15 p.m. ET (1:15 a.m. local time Friday), a government source said. The Skylink plane will have a two-hour window to board people and is scheduled to leave Tripoli at 9:30 p.m. ET (4:30 a.m. local time Friday) bound for Rome via Amman.

Gov. Gen. David Johnston's plane is also in Rome, and is an option as well, Cannon said. The Governor General is on his way to visit Kuwait and Qatar.

Among other countries scrambling to get their citizens out of Libya as fighting increased between anti-government protesters and Gadhafi supporters are India, France, Turkey, Serbia and Egypt. Egyptians form the largest group of foreigners in Libya.

Earlier, a charter plane that was set to fly to Libya from Rome on Thursday to pick up Canadians fleeing Libya was cancelled for security reasons, Cannon said.

The Skylink aircraft that was to be used for the flight has the capacity to take up to 220 people.

An airport official from Rome told the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault that the flight delay was about insurance.

"The insurance companies feel like this is too big of a risk, that they can't be held responsible if something happens, that the risk is growing," Arsenault said, reporting from Rome. "And so for now, they have said no, they are not flying."

Italian airline Alitalia followed suit, cancelling two flights, said Arsenault.

"This is a big blow to the thousands of people who have been staying overnight at the airport in Tripoli. Food and water is running out. They are begging and ... fighting their way to try to get on any seats on any planes," she said. "It's difficult for anyone to get out of the country."

With the deteriorating situation in Libya, Cannon urged all Canadians to leave the country immediately.

"The situation in Libya is very quickly changing and continues to become more dangerous. We continue to call on the Libyan authorities to cease the use of force and the outrageous abuses against civilians."

Foreign Affairs has said 351 Canadians are registered with the embassy in Tripoli and at least 213 have said they want to leave the country.

Some other countries, like Britain, are also sending in military planes to airlift their citizens because the situation is so tense.

The British Special Forces has put a unit on standby in the event it is needed to rescue British oil workers stuck in the desert, said Arsenault.

"The feeling is the situation is changing so quickly, those decisions may have to be made very soon."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Thursday in Ottawa that the situation in Libya is different and "much more frightening" than that of Egypt a couple of weeks ago.  

"If a military flight can land, that seems to be the kind of thing we should actively consider and consider it quickly, because this situation is not stable and it may turn ugly."

Some Canadians, as well as Americans and British nationals who had boarded a ferry bound for Malta on Wednesday, were facing delays.

Twenty-six Canadians are part of a contingent that boarded a U.S.-chartered ferry that was to depart for Malta. The ferry was reported to have almost 600 people on board. Heavy seas had delayed the ferry's departure.

Another seven Canadians were said to have boarded a private charter boat to leave Benghazi, about 650 kilometres east of Tripoli.

It's not clear whether either of the two boats had left the port by Thursday night.

As well, a group of 15 Canadian workers hunkered down in a bunker in Benghazi, where the airport is shut down. It is unclear how those workers will make their way to Tripoli.

One option may be the Turkish ships that have been ferrying thousands of people from the ports at Benghazi and Tripoli.

There is also a sandstorm between the Egyptian-Libyan border so that crossing has been closed.

The regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has responded to anti-government protests with a heavy crackdown. There are reports that at least 1,000 protesters have been killed by Gadhafi's forces in recent days.

Anti-government protesters, backed by defecting army units, have claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya's 1,600-kilometre Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.

With files from The Canadian Press

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