BRUSSELS - European countries on Thursday scrambled to evacuate their nationals from unrest-shaken Libya, as defiant Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi clings to power despite nationwide protests.
Fears of a civil war in the North African country prompted European nations to race to send ships and planes in order to help their citizens flee the chaos.
About 5,000 to 6,000 European citizens are currently believed to be stuck in Libya, European Commission spokesman Raphael Brigandi told Xinhua Thursday evening.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron apologized on Thursday for the delay in getting nationals home, as three flights -- two charter planes and a military transporter -- left Tripoli airport carrying more than 250 people in total. The Royal Navy's HMS Cumberland frigate also started loading stranded Britons in Libya's second largest city of Benghazi.
A third charter flight is en route to Libya and a second military transport plane is on standby in nearby Malta.
Earlier reports said there were about 500 British nationals in Libya, including 170 workers in various desert camps. About 300 were in the capital and 70 in Benghazi.
Germany is sending a flotilla of three navy ships to Libya on Thursday to help evacuate German citizens.
According to German Foreign Ministry, more than 350 citizens of Germany and other European countries had been airlifted out of Libya on Tuesday. It said about 150 to 200 German citizens remained in the oil-rich country.
In Paris, authorities said about 200 French citizens, tourists, or people not seeking to leave remained in Libya.
Paris had sent planes to Libya early this week and brought back 500 to 550 people, mostly French. The country had roughly 750 citizens in Libya when the anti-government unrest erupted last week.
Poland sent a charter flight to pick up 80 of its citizens stranded in Libya Thursday morning. Only 15 of them were able to board the plane, which then flew 46 British, Romanian and Danish nationals back to Warsaw.
Austria on Thursday said it would evacuate about 100 of its citizens remaining in Libya on Sunday, while Romania announced on Wednesday that it would use military transport aircraft and charter flight to evacuate its 450 citizens in the country.
Meanwhile, European Commission spokesman Raphael Brigandi told Xinhua that China had helped evacuate 500 European citizens from Libya on a ship it had in the area.