Greece evacuates 79 Chinese from Libya
Updated: 2014-08-04 07:31
By Xinhua in Athens (China Daily)
Chinese nationals evacuated from Libya carry their baggage after arriving at a port in Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, on Saturday. A Greek navy frigate evacuated nearly 200 people from Greece, China, and other countries who were in Libya. Petros Giannakouris / Associated Press
Seventy-nine Chinese nationals have been evacuated from Libya and taken to Athens on board the Greek frigate Salamis.
The evacuees arrived safely at Piraeus port near the Greek capital on Saturday morning after a 27-hour trip across rough seas.
They are all due to return home to China by Monday.
The 117-meter-long warship, which can carry 220 passengers, was sent to Tripoli on Thursday to pick up Greek embassy employees as well as Greek and foreign citizens.
The operation was ordered because of the worsening security situation in the country. Clashes between rival militias in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi have left at least 214 people dead and 981 others wounded since July 13.
Evacuees told how they heard explosions as they boarded the ship.
The Chinese were the largest national group on board. There also were 77 Greeks, 12 Cypriots, 10 Britons, seven Belgians, a Russian and an Albanian, according to the Greek Defense Ministry.
The evacuees were warmly welcomed by Zou Xiaoli, the Chinese ambassador to Greece, and Chinese embassy staff, as well as Greek and other foreign officials.
Zou expressed China's gratitude to the Greek government and the captain and crew for their assistance.
Evacuees raised banners that read "Thank you, Hellas" and "Long live Sino-Greek friendship", and waved Chinese and Greek flags.
"I am happy that you arrived here safe and sound," Zou said at a welcome ceremony at the port. "You can return to China very soon as most of your flights have been confirmed.
"On behalf of the Chinese government, I hereby express my cordial solicitude to you."
The evacuees described the alarming security situation in Libya.
"We could hear the sound of gunfire and explosions when we boarded the frigate," said Chen Zhonghao. "The situation in Libya is becoming worse. I don't know what would have happened if we had not left."
It was the second time that Zhang Zhibiao, 31, from Shenzhen, Guangdong province, had been evacuated from Libya. In 2011, he left by chartered plane as the country plunged into civil war.
"This time the situation is worse, as the airports have been destroyed and evacuation by land is very dangerous," he said.
"Fortunately, with the help of the Chinese and Greek governments, we were able to leave by sea, which is the safest way."
Ambassador Zou said senior Greek defense and foreign affairs officials called him personally on Wednesday, informing him of the naval mission and offering to take "as many Chinese citizens as possible" from Libya to Greece.
The evacuees were transferred by bus from the port to a hotel near Athens. According to a senior official from the Chinese embassy, eight had already left for China and all will fly home by Monday.
This was not the first time that Greece has assisted China in evacuating citizens from battle zones.
In 1997, amid unrest in Albania, a Greek navy ship took Chinese nationals to Greece. Greece also helped to transport Chinese citizens from Beirut in 2006 when the conflict between Israel and Lebanon flared up.
In recent meetings, Chinese and Greek leaders have vowed to further enhance their comprehensive strategic partnership.
President Xi Jinping described Greece as a reliable friend of China during a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in July.
He said the two countries show mutual understanding and support on matters relating to each other's core interests and major concerns, and help each other in times of difficulty.