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Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon holds a news conference on Libyan evacuation plans at the Canadian embassy in Rome on Feb. 24, 2011. (TONY GENTILE/REUTERS)
Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon holds a news conference on Libyan evacuation plans at the Canadian embassy in Rome on Feb. 24, 2011. (TONY GENTILE/REUTERS)

Canadians leaving Libya on allies' planes and boats Add to ...

Most Canadians fleeing Libya Thursday scrambled out on the planes or boats of allies as the Canadian government diverted a military plane from Germany and sent a Jordanian charter to continue the hodge-podge international effort to evacuate foreigners.

The two planes - essentially the Plan B to back up a cancelled charter - may now carry few Canadians, after about 200 were given spots on flights organized by Spain, Britain and Malta, and a U.S. boat sailing to Malta. But Canadian officials said those flights would offer the extra seats to citizens of other nations still waiting to get out.

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A Canadian-chartered plane from Amman did land in Tripoli early Friday to pick up Canadians and others. A massive C-17 Canadian Forces cargo plane, diverted from Germany, was still in Rome late Thursday as Ottawa awaited Libya's approval for the aircraft to land.

Throughout the day, in capitals around the world, foreign ministers and officials swapped spots on ships and jets in a rush to get their citizens out of a country falling into civil war.

A Canadian government charter that had been scheduled to pick up 105 Canadians at Tripoli's airport was cancelled early Thursday because the carrier's insurer balked at covering the security risks.

Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon received the news as he arrived in Rome from New York. He called Defence Minister Peter MacKay to start the process of securing a military flight from New York. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, receiving hourly briefings on the evacuation, ordered officials to call for a second charter on standby and to divert a military plane if needed, according to an aide. And a Canadian Forces Airbus, in Rome to carry Governor-General David Johnston, was put on standby in case it's needed.

Mr. Cannon fielded offers of help in a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who volunteered spots for Canadians on Italian boats leaving Libya's east, and in a phone call with British Foreign Minister William Hague, who offered seats on British evacuation planes.

About 35 Canadians boarded a flight chartered by Spain, and then most of the rest waiting at Tripoli's airport were given spots on British and Maltese flights; other Canadians have also left on boats chartered by the United States. It was not clear how many other Canadians would head to Tripoli's airport for Thursday night's flight.

"My officials tell me that nearly 200 Canadians have, or are about to be safely evacuated," Mr. Cannon said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "I am told that this would include all or virtually all Canadians who have been waiting at the airport in Tripoli today."

In Ottawa, Libyan Canadian Semussi Ali said he managed to get his wife Nadia and two-year-old daughter Dania a seat on a Moroccan plane from Tripoli to Casablanca, and from there on a flight to Montreal scheduled to arrive late Thursday night.

They had booked seats on the cancelled Canadian charter, but he arranged an earlier departure for his wife, a Libyan citizen with permanent-resident status in Canada, after he heard rumours the Libyan government might stop Libyan citizens from leaving, and Canadian officials raised concerns she might need a visa to enter Italy when the evacuation plane landed.

"And the Canadians, they were only going to take her to Rome, and she would be on her own, and I didn't like that," Mr. Ali said, expressing relief she was flying home. "She was in Tripoli. She couldn't leave the house for the last six days. She said all the streets were empty but it's not safe to go out.

But as many Canadians hastened to leave, a handful are preparing to go in. Fathi Abuzgaya, an orthopedic surgeon in Ajax, Ont., is planning to fly to Cairo Saturday with four or five other Libyan-Canadian physicians, and then make the 1,000-kilometre drive to Benghazi, the eastern city under protesters' control.

"It sounds like the situation there is very fluid and dynamic and dangerous," he said. "But there's a lot of need for physicians in Libya because of what's happening. There's a lot of people that are dead, and more importantly a lot of people who are injured."

Dr. Abuzgaya, who lived in Benghazi before he came to Canada in 1983, said that city seems relatively safe now, but there's likely to be a lot of fighting near Tripoli as protesters try to unseat Moammar Gadhafi.

He will go there if he can, if the risks are not too high. "I also wish to witness history being made when this guy falls," Dr. Abuzgaya said.

Follow on Twitter: @camrclark

 

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