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US, Britain withdraw some staff from Libya

Libyans protest outside the foreign ministry to demand the lifting of a siege by armed gunmen in Tripoli, May 10, 2013
Hundreds of Libyans demonstrate outside the foreign ministry to demand the lifting of a siege by armed gunmen and the return of the rule of law during a protest in Tripoli on May 10, 2013. The United States and Britain both announced Friday that they were

The United States and Britain both announced they were withdrawing some diplomatic staff from Libya, amid security concerns over a recent flare-up in political unrest there.

Tensions have risen in Libya since ex-rebels besieged two ministries at the end of last month in a row over a law that would ban officials who served under slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi from holding office.

"In light of the current unsettled conditions around major anti-government demonstrations in Tripoli, the under secretary for management has approved the ordered departure of non-emergency personnel from Libya," said US State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

"A handful of our staff members have, indeed, departed Libya. Our embassy in Tripoli is still open and still functioning."

Earlier, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said that Britain's embassy in the Libyan capital was "temporarily withdrawing a small number of staff, mainly those who work in support of government ministries which have been affected by recent developments."

British Ambassador Michael Aron tweeted that "despite rumours the British embassy in Tripoli is open for business."

A Libyan security officer stands outside one of two police stations that were attacked, May 10, 2013 in Benghazi
A member of the Libyan security forces stands outside one of two police stations that were attacked on May 10, 2013 in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

But the British Council cultural agency said separately that it was closing its Libya office until next week for the same reason.

It promised to make up any of the English language classes that students have missed.

Gunmen surrounded the Libyan foreign ministry on April 28 and the justice ministry two days later to demand the passing of a law excluding Kadhafi collaborators from office.

There has also been violence in Libya's second city Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 uprising that toppled Kadhafi, with bomb attacks on Friday damaging two police stations, although there were no casualties.

Authorities blame radical extremists for the violence in Benghazi, including a deadly attack in September against the US consulate in the city that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Libyan gunmen surround the justice ministry on April 30, 2013, in Tripoli
Libyan gunmen surround the justice ministry demanding a ban against those who worked under the former regime of ousted leader Moamer Kadhafi from holding senior positions on April 30, 2013, in the capital Tripoli.

Britain, France and the United States issued a joint statement on Wednesday calling on "all Libyans to refrain from armed protest and violence during this difficult time in the democratic transition."

On Thursday, the US State Department issued a travel warning, saying it "strongly advises against all but essential travel" to Tripoli and all travel to Benghazi, Bani Walid and southern Libya, including border areas and the regions of Sabha and Kufra.

On April 23, a car bomb exploded outside the French Embassy, wounding two French guards and causing extensive damage.

The French government reduced the number of personnel at the mission, which continues to function despite the damages.

Meanwhile, the French school in Tripoli planned to stay closed until security around its building can be guaranteed, its directors said.

The German Embassy has closed its doors, and its staff moved to secure quarters elsewhere in Tripoli, a Western source said.

As far back as January, London referred to a potential threat on its embassy in Tripoli and called on its citizens to leave Benghazi after identifying a "specific and imminent threat to Westerners."

Britain and France led the creation of a NATO no-fly zone in Libya in 2011 when the rebellion against Kadhafi began.

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