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Philippines to ferry workers out of Libya

The Philippines is to charter ferries to speed up the removal of 13,000 nationals from Libya, officials said Thursday (July 31) a day after a Filipina nurse was abducted and gang-raped there.

MANILA: The Philippines is to charter ferries to speed up the removal of 13,000 nationals from Libya, officials said Thursday (July 31) a day after a Filipina nurse was abducted and gang-raped there.

The foreign ministry on Thursday confirmed the sexual assault of the woman in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Wednesday. It occurred 10 days after discovery at a hospital in the port of Benghazi of the beheaded remains of a Filipino construction worker who had been abducted earlier.

"We condemn these crimes that have been committed against our people," President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters in Manila.

The woman was seized outside her residence and taken to an unknown location, where she was sexually assaulted by up to six youths, foreign department spokesman Charles Jose told reporters. She was released about two hours later and a Filipino consular team took her to hospital for treatment, he added.

The Philippines ordered all 13,000 of its citizens to leave Libya following the beheading, with a consular team organising evacuation by land to neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. However, only just over 700 had left Libya by Wednesday, according to a foreign ministry tally, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation, with warring militias battling for control of key population centres. The Philippines has also barred its nationals from travelling to Libya.

The government had also evacuated thousands of its nationals from Libya during the 2011 upheaval that toppled the late dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, some boarding ferries that took them to Malta where they later caught flights back to the Philippines. Many of them later returned to their jobs there.

"Just like what we did before, the Department of Foreign Affairs has hired ships to ferry and evacuate Filipinos... We reiterate our appeal to those Filipinos still in Libya to comply with the mandatory evacuation (order)," Coloma said.

Jose, the foreign department spokesman, said he had no information to share for the time being on how many vessels would be chartered, which port would the Filipinos be taken in and where they will be offloaded. "We're working on it," he added.

About 10 million Filipinos live and work abroad, many of them in the Middle East, in search of better-paying jobs. Many were "hesitant to come home even if the country where they work" was in crisis or undergoing political conflict, said Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz. The government had a "re-integration" programme to help returning Filipinos displaced by conflicts in Libya and elsewhere, she said.

The Philippines has also ordered about 100 Filipinos living in Gaza to leave the besieged Palestinian territory as Israel presses its offensive against Hamas militants.

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