Turkish ship evacuates wounded from Libya

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2011 2:25 PM
Turkish ship evacuates wounded from Libya

Hundreds of Libyans hurt during fierce fighting arrived Tuesday in Turkey, where medics wheeled the wounded out in stretchers for emergency care at a hastily assembled portside hospital.

Passengers waved the flags of Turkey and of the Libyan opposition and cheered "Turkey! Turkey!" from the deck as the ferry-turned-hospital brought wounded residents from the besieged Libyan city of Misrata and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Most of the wounded were from the Libyan opposition, but three pro-Moammar Gadhafi soldiers were also included, Turkey's state run Anatolia news agency reported.

There were also four children on board, the agency said _ one with cuts or burns to his face.

Some 60 ambulances and two helicopters were on standby as the ferry docked at the port of Cesme on Turkey's Aegean coast.

NATO member Turkey initially balked at the idea of military action in Libya, but is now taking part in the enforcement of a no-fly zone to shield civilians and has vowed to front humanitarian aid efforts in the country.

Turkey secured a temporary cease-fire in Misrata through intense "telephone diplomacy" over the weekend that allowed the ship to dock and pick up the injured, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters on Monday. Misrata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the capital Tripoli, had been largely cut off from the world for weeks.

Health Minister Recep Akdag on Tuesday said "securing the cease-fire was critical" for the operation. It was only meant to allow the safe passage of the Turkish ferry in and out of the Libyan ports and is not part of the cease-fire deal that Turkey is trying to broker between leader Moammar Gadhafi and the opposition, officials said.

The wounded, lying on mats and makeshift beds, were lifted onto stretchers and taken to the field hospital in Cesme, a popular vacation resort. They were then transported to hospitals around the region.

Anatolia said three wounded pro-Gadhafi fighters, including a Nigerian national, had boarded the ferry claiming to be members of the opposition. However, once their true identity became clear Turkish security personnel on board the ship kept them apart from the rest of the evacuees, the agency reported.

The three would be treated at a hospital under police protection for fear of reprisals, the agency said.

The ferry brought 321 wounded and 108 other Libyans accompanying them. The boat, which carried medical supplies to Libya, also returned with dozens of foreigners and Turks on board.

Separately on Tuesday, a Turkish military transport plane took medical supplies to Benghazi and flew back 14 other wounded Libyans, the Anatolia news agency reported.

"Turkey has become a leading country in providing humanitarian aid around the world," Akdag told reporters at the port as he waited for the boat's arrival.

The Turkish government funded the trip, and the Turkish Red Crescent and Islamic aid group IHH provided staff and supplies. Twelve Turkish jets and a frigate provided protection for the ferry.

Turkey has evacuated 25,000 Turkish workers and more than 6,000 foreigners from Libya since it succumbed to chaos.