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Planes sent to evacuate citizens

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Muammar Gaddafi in a state broadcast, where he vowed to fight 'to my last drop of blood'

Muammar Gaddafi in a state broadcast, where he vowed to fight 'to my last drop of blood'

Muammar Gaddafi in a state broadcast, where he vowed to fight 'to my last drop of blood'

Two Government planes are due to be deployed to airlift Irish citizens stranded in Libya.

The military aircraft will fly to Malta, where they will remain on stand-by ahead of a possible evacuation on Wednesday.

About 40 Irish nationals in Libya are seeking to leave the troubled north African state as violent protests over Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year autocratic rule escalate.

Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen approved the immediate deployment of the two Air Corps planes to Malta following talks with Defence Minister Eamon O'Cuiv.

A Government spokesman said: "The decision follows increasing concern in relation to their safety arising from the latest assessment of the deteriorating political situation in that country."

Foreign Affairs officials have been liaising with European Union counterparts to establish options to assist citizens and help them leave the country safely.

The group includes at least six Irish workers in Libya's second city Benghazi with Dublin-based firm Mercury Engineering. Four other women who hold Irish passports are long-term residents in the city and married to Libyan men, but it is unlikely they will attempt to leave.

More than 200 people have been killed in the past two nights of clashes on the streets of Libya, with Colonel Gaddafi vowing to fight "to my last drop of blood".

The Department of Foreign Affairs has advised against all travel to Libya and warned Irish citizens who are already in the country to leave.

Anyone who has any concerns over family or friends in Libya can contact its Crisis Centre on 01 4180222.

PA