Nearly 7,000 of the 18,000 Indians stranded in strife-tron Libya will be evacuated by Thursday after four special Air India flights bring 1,188 Indians home on Thursday. The Indian Air Force (IAF) will also fly a transport plane to the north African country to help in the evacuation.
India last week began the evacuation operation - the biggest mounted by this country after the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that forced thousands of Indians in the country to flee to Amman, the capital of Jordan, from where they were flown home.
Three Air India flights - two Boeing 747s and one Airbus-330 - brought back 1,045 Indians from Libyan capital Tripoli Wednesday.
Another three flights have left for Tripoli and are expected to ferry back 1,002 people.
Three daily flights shall continue to Tripoli over the coming days and these may be stepped up, said the external affairs ministry Wednesday.
MV Scotia Prince, a ship chartered by the Indian government, is likely to reach Alexandria in Egypt on Wednesday with 1,188 people. Four special flights will bring them to India on Thursday.
"By the end of today (Wednesday), 6,177 Indian nationals will have been pulled out of Libya. This constitutes just over a third of the estimated 18,000 Indian nationals in Libya," the ministry said.
The government has faced criticism that it has been slow in evacuating its citizens from Libya compared to countries like the US and China. But Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao tweeted in response to a query that "India has chartered ships and aircraft. Please believe me when I say this. I will not comment on the Chinese statistics..."
Air India Wednesday said it had brought back 2,200 Indians from Tripoli since it began evacuation operations Feb 26.
The IAF Wednesday said it will operate its transport plane to airlift Indians from Libya to Cairo in Egypt from where they would be taken home in Air India and private airline flights.
"An IL-76 (transport aircraft) is now at the Palam technical area and is expected to fly out to Cairo tomorrow (Thursday) morning enroute to Libya," an IAF spokesperson said Wednesday evening.
He refused to disclose the precise landing destination of the aircraft "for reasons of safety of evacuees".
The aircraft, he said, "will airlift Indians out of the (north African) country upto Cairo whereafter other arrangements by the ministry of external affairs will take over".
A second IL-76 is also being readied to fly, if required, to Libya where fierce battles continued Wednesday as people who have risen in protest against the 41-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi braved armed attacks to hold on to major towns.
Alarmed over the worsening crisis, which has killed between 1,000-2,000 people in a little over two weeks, nearly 140,000 people, Indians included, have fled the country, which is feared to be hurtling towards a protracted civil war.
Meanwhile, Jet Airways will also operate its first flight to Tripoli on Wednesday.
Jet will operate a Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Delhi to Libya, with a passenger capacity of 178.