The Italian government today decided it would evacuate any Italian citizens in Libya who wanted to leave because of continuing uncertainties about the political stability there after Tuesday's U.S. air attacks on the capital of Tripoli and the port of Benghazi.
The decision to provide planes to evacuate Italians who want to leave was made at a Cabinet meeting this afternoon and announced later by Transport Minister Claudio Signorile and Merchant Marine Minister Gianuario Carta.
Within hours of the decision, a special Alitalia DC9 took off from Rome to Tripoli, since all scheduled flights to Libya were canceled after the U.S. air attacks.
The decision was made as other European nations -- West Germany, Britain, Switzerland and Austria -- were understood to have been studying their own contingency evacuation plans should the situation in Libya worsen.
There are reported to be 8,200 Italians, about 5,000 British, 2,000 French, 800 to l,000 Americans, 300 Dutch, 100 Belgians and a smaller number of other European nationals in Libya, mostly working in oil fields or construction projects and businesses.
In addition, there are estimated to be about 30,000 Koreans and a similiar number of Turkish laborers working in the North African nation of 3.5 milllion people which, until the end of World War II, was a colony of Italy.
An Italian Transport Ministry spokesman tonight confirmed that the Alitalia DC9 flight had left Rome to pick up about 100 Italians who had asked to leave.
The Foreign Ministry sought to play down the flight, saying it was a regularly scheduled flight that was resumed following the reopening of Tripoli airport late last night. The departure of the Alitalia DC9 at 5:30 this afternoon, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, was a delayed scheduled flight that normally would have left Rome for Tripoli at 10 a.m.
A spokesman for Alitalia, however, said tonight the flight was "a special flight," laid on as a result of the government's decision today to provide its nationals with transport to leave Libya if they wished.
How many foreigners wanted to leave Libya remained unclear, and Transport Ministry officials said they could not say yet how many special flights would be sent to Libya to pick up Italians.
Persons who arrived here late last night on the first commercial Libyan flight to leave Tripoli were divided about the numbers that wanted to leave. Those opinions were reinforced by other foreigners who flew to other European capitals today on other Libyan Airlines flights.
Luigi Cavalieri, a carpenter who had been working for an Italian company who was on last night's Libyan Airlines flight, told reporters that as soon as he heard there was a plane leaving Tripoli last night, he left for the airport "without even changing trousers."
"I couldn't take it anymore," he said on landing at Rome's Fiumicino airport. "Things had been bad in Libya for some time. When the attack came, I decided it was time to leave."
That was not a universal point of view. In London today, a British oil worker, John Bullock, who arrived on the first Libyan airliner to land at Heathrow since the bombing, said that "the British community in Libya seems to be taking everything very calmly."
"The Libyans are treating us perfectly politely, and I would be happy to go back at any time," he told an interviewer. "Most people were not very pleased by the attack by the Americans. It is a bit off when your own side bombs you."