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Bishop asked to evacuate Benghazi church

‘Asking him to go was a precaution’

Mgr Sylvester Magro.Mgr Sylvester Magro.

A Maltese bishop has been asked to evacuate the Benghazi church where he is based as a precaution due to escalating fears of violence in the Libyan city.

Contacted by The Times in Benghazi yesterday, Mgr Sylvester Magro said he was still based in the church because, so far, everything “seemed normal”.

“If anything happens, I will take a decision but up to now there’s nothing,” he said.

Benghazi police asked Mgr Magro to leave the church between February 13 and 17 and seek shelter somewhere else.

Mgr Magro informed his Franciscan provincial Sandro Overend, based in Malta, through an e-mail.

It is not clear why such specific dates were mentioned though they coincide with the second anniversary from the uprising that eventually toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

Abandoning the Church would mean the looting and destruction of everything we have

In the e-mail, Mgr Magro told him he was concerned as the church had been looted by extremists during the 2011 Libyan uprising.

“Abandoning the church would mean the looting and destruction of everything we have. We are worried and a bit afraid knowing that… (governments) have ordered their nationals to quit Benghazi,” Mgr Magro wrote in the e-mail.

When contacted, Fr Overend said Mgr Magro was still in the church when he last spoke to him and the situation was calm.

“Asking him to leave was a precaution, at this stage, and we do not want to alarm anyone,” Fr Overend said.

Last Thursday, UK, German and Dutch nationals were asked by their governments to evacuate Benghazi following a “specific threat to Westerners”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francis Zammit Dimech said that at this stage Maltese living there – estimated to be about 10 – were being asked to be cautious.

Maltese businessmen in Benghazi said they were worried there would be a repetition of the eight-month crisis that started in February 2011 and ended with the fall and death of the Libyan dictator.

Air Malta will be cancelling today’s flights to Benghazi due to “safety concerns”.

It also cancelled its direct flight to Benghazi last Thursday.

Passengers booked on the flights will be re-routed for free to Tripoli.

The airline will decide whether to cancel Thursday’s flights at a later stage, a spokesman said.

British authorities have been advising against travel to Benghazi and most parts of Libya since September when US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed during an attack on their consulate.

Last week, the UK Foreign Office said after the recent French military intervention in Mali there was the possibility of retaliatory attacks against Western interests in the region.

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