France today called home its ambassador and the entire diplomatic staff of its embassy in Libya, wrecked yesterday by a highly disciplined crowd that systematically gutted the building but scrupulously avoided physical harm to the French diplomats.
The French ordered Libya to send home an equal number of its Paris embassy staff.
French sources noted that this stopped short of a complete break in diplomatic relations since the embassy's consular and commerical staffs will remain to take care of French nationals and companies.
Word came today, meanwhile, that the French consulate general in the port of Benghazi, Libya's other major city, was also sacked yesterday by orderly crowds. They chanted "People's Revolution in Tunisia," as they reportedly did in Tripoli. The Tunisian Embassy in the Libyan capital was gutted yesterday as well.
There was a major outcry in France about the sacking of the embassy. French authorities said yesterday it had been inspired by French aid to Tunisia following a major Libyan-backed guerrilla raid in southern Tunisia 10 days ago.
A number of Paris and provincial newspapers broadly hinted that they would welcome a military operation against the radical government of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
"Striking a diplomat is the equivalent on the national level of slapping a woman," said Le Quotidien de Paris. "The end of embassies is the return of the barbarians."
French military instructors and maintenance crews with French material in Libya are apparently not going to be withdrawn now. They are said to represent fewer than half of the 200 French technical assistance personnel in Libya. There are about 1,800 French citizens in the country.
Radio Tripoli has been whipping up opinion against both France and the United States, saying that 30 French paratroops were killed in southern Tunisia, and that the U.S. Marines are patrolling the streets of Tunis.