British embassy in Libya to 'suspend operations'

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Media captionA Greek navy vessel arrives in Athens with over 180 evacuees from Libya, including 10 Britons

The UK is to temporarily close its embassy in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, because of worsening violence.

The Foreign Office, which has urged Britons to leave the country immediately, said consular assistance would not be available from Monday.

Ambassador Michael Aron described the situation as "very sad" and said staff would return to the embassy "as soon as security allows".

Arrangements are being made to help British nationals leave Libya.

The country has been gripped by instability and a power struggle among rival groups since the overthrow of former leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

More than 200 people have been killed in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi in the past two weeks.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the two cities on Friday to denounce militias who have been fighting Libyan armed forces.

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Image caption British ambassador Michael Aron said the decision to leave had been taken 'reluctantly'

The Foreign Office said a limited number of commercial flights were still leaving Libya but warned flight schedules could change without notice.

On Wednesday, British Airways suspended flights to and from Tripoli up to and including 5 August because of the security situation at the country's main international airport.

The area has seen fighting throughout the past three weeks as rival militias - one established by the outgoing parliament and one controlled by the defence ministry - battle for control of the facility.

One of the British embassy's compounds is in this area.

Timeline: Libya after Gaddafi

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Media captionThere was chaos on Friday as thousands of people including foreign nationals tried to flee across the border into Tunisia, as Rana Jawad reports

February 2011: Arrest of human rights campaigner sparks protests

March-August 2011: Rebels backed by Nato air attacks capture large parts of Libya

October 2011: Col Gaddafi is captured and killed. The main opposition group, the National Transitional Council (NTC), declares Libya officially liberated

January 2012: Clashes erupt between former rebel forces in Benghazi. Following months see continuing instability as rival militias battle for power and resources in both east and west Libya

September 2012: US ambassador is killed when armed men storm US consulate in Benghazi

November 2012: New government led by liberal figure Ali Zeidan sworn in

May 2013: Government offices besieged by militiamen

August 2013: Rebels begin months-long blockade of oil terminals

October 2013: PM Ali Zeidan briefly abducted by militiamen

November 2013: Libyan army clashes with Islamist fighters

February 2014: Protests break out after Libyan parliament refuses to disband itself after its mandate expires

March 2014: PM Ali Zeidan is sacked by parliament

June 2014: New parliament elected. Due to hold first meeting this month

Full timeline

Six days ago, the Foreign Office said Britons should leave Libya immediately because of growing instability and advised against all travel there.

On Friday, the Foreign Office repeated its advice for Britons to leave "due to the more intense and more widespread fighting in Tripoli, and greater instability throughout Libya".

Mr Aron tweeted: "Reluctantly we've decided we have to leave & temporarily suspend Embassy operations in #Libya. We will be back as soon as security allows."

He added: "Fighting has spread to where we live in Suraj and the risk of getting caught in the crossfire is too great. Very sad."

Mr Aron said a temporary office would be set up in Tunisia.

Most western countries have now withdrawn diplomats from Libya.

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