Turkish PM phoned Libyan leader on Turks' safety

08:19, February 22, 2011      

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has phoned Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi twice over securing Turkish citizens' safety in the unrest-hit country as Ankara struggled to evacuate them, officials said Monday.

"Mr. Gaddafi told the prime minister they would extend all support and assistance to Turkey," Turkish State Minister for Foreign Trade Zafer Caglayan told reporters on Monday.

Gaddafi and Erdogan spoke via telephone twice on Sunday and discussed Turkish planes' problems in landing at Libyan airports, according to Turkish daily Hurriyet.

A Turkish plane flew to the Libyan city of Benghazi to repatriate Turkish citizens early Monday, but failed to get permission to land due to protests. It returned empty to Istanbul later in the day.

Turkey was sending two ferries instead to Libya to evacuate Turks and four planes were on standby, while Ankara was also considering evacuating some of its citizens by land through Egypt, said Caglayan.

Looters in Libya attacked 14 Turkish construction sites in Libya but no casualties among Turkish citizens were reported, Caglayan said.

Turkish citizens have taken shelter in schools, gymnasiums and state buildings in Libya and some 1,500 Turkish citizens were waiting for planes at the Benghazi Airport to return to Turkey, according to the minister.

More than 200 Turkish firms are operating in Libya with nearly 4,000 Turkish workers and projects worth more than 15 billion U.S. dollars, said Caglayan.

More than 200 anti-government protesters were killed during the last few days of political unrest in the Libyan city of Benghazi, Al-Jazeera TV reported Monday.

Inspired by popular protests that had swept Tunisia and Egypt and forced their leaders to step down, thousands of Libyans have started a string of protests against their leader Muammar Gaddafi.

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