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Hundreds of Turks leave Libya after threats

Threatened with potential espionage charges and arrests, Turkish citizens return home and are said to be in good health and good spirits
Ex-general Khalifa Haftar gave Turks and Qataris 48 hours to leave Libya (AFP)

Two hundred forty-eight out of the 420 Turkish workers in Libya returned to Turkey on Tuesday, after they were threatened with arrest over spying claims.

The Turkish Embassy chartered two aircraft to fly the 420 Turks home from Libya's third city, Mistrata, airport spokesman, Mohamed Ismail told the state news agency, LANA.

Fatih Aydogmus, an engineer, who has worked at a construction company for the past 14 months in  Libya  explained that they were not in a life-threatening situation, but left the country as a precautionary measure. He also said that he was considering returning since their projects have been left unfinished.

On Saturday, a spokesman for renegade General Khalifa Haftar gave the Turks and Qataris 48 hours to leave the country.

Haftar spokesman Mohamed Hegazi claimed that some were engaged in espionage and threatened that any remaining Turks or Qataris would face arrest by his forces.

Hegazi told Anadolu Agency that the warning reflected popular Libyan seniments against both Turkey and Qatar.

On Monday, Libya's Foreign Ministry distanced the government from Haftar's threats, and promised to protect foreign nationals.

"The transitional government is responsible for protecting foreigners staying in Libya," the ministry said in a statement.

Turkey moved staff from its Benghazi consulate to the Libyan capital of Tripoli earlier this month, for security reasons, while the Turkish Foreign Ministry called on Turkish nationals in Libya to leave the country if their presence was non-essential.

Haftar reappeared on Libya's political stage last month, to declare war on Islamist militias based in the eastern parts of the country.

Haftar accuses Ankara and Doha of backing the former Islamist rebel groups, which he has sworn to crush.

Turkey and Qatar both supported the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement which has been declared a "terrorist" organisation by Egypt and Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia.

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