Europe urges citizens to leave Libya's Benghazi

Thu Jan 24, 2013 6:06pm EST
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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Mohammed Abbas

TRIPOLI/LONDON (Reuters) - European countries urged their nationals to leave the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Thursday, with Britain citing a "specific and imminent" threat to Westerners days after a deadly attack by Islamist militants in neighboring Algeria.

Officials declined to give details, but Britain has warned of a growing militant threat in North Africa, which Prime Minister David Cameron has called a "magnet for jihadists".

The call to leave Libya's second largest city irked Libyans keen to win foreign investment to rebuild a fractured infrastructure and boost the oil industry after the revolution which toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

"We are now aware of a specific and imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi, and urge any British nationals who remain there against our advice to leave immediately," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

Similar warnings came from Germany and the Netherlands.

They followed the deaths of at least 38 hostages in an attack on Algeria's In Amenas gas complex near the Libyan border, and the start of French military operations in Mali.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the situation in Benghazi, cradle of the uprising against Gaddafi, as "serious and delicate".

"The warning was made because of a series of bits of information. We have our reasons, but I would not like to speak of details. Security is the most important thing," he told reporters during a visit to Lisbon.   Continued...

Passengers wait to board a plane at Benghazi's Benina international airport after warnings from European countries urging their nationals to leave the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori