Swiss leave Tripoli embassy after Libya stand-off

Swiss leave Tripoli embassy after Libya stand-off
# 23 February 2010 02:44 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Two Swiss businessmen left the shelter of their country’s embassy in Tripoli on Monday after Libyan police surrounded the building, apparently avoiding a major confrontation in a row which has drawn in governments across Europe, APA reports quoting Reuters.
In Brussels, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the police had threatened to storm the embassy if Tripoli’s ultimatum to hand over the two men was not heeded, and many EU ambassadors had gone to the building "to show solidarity."
One of the two men, Max Goeldi, emerged alone from the embassy building to be met by a police general and a senior Justice Ministry official, who drove him off to start serving a four-month prison sentence for immigration violations.
Earlier, the other Swiss citizen who had taken refuge in the embassy, Rachid Hamdani, came out. His lawyer said he was being taken by car to neighboring Tunisia after Libyan authorities gave him clearance to leave the country.
Spindelegger, attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers, said an escalation of the row had been avoided. "Last night there were many intense phone calls," he told reporters. "It was announced there was a deadline -- either hand over the convicted Swiss citizens or the embassy would be stormed."
"Many ambassadors of EU countries went then to the embassy to show solidarity. The deadline expired without any storming ... The situation was calmed and an escalation avoided."
Both Swiss men have been barred from leaving Libya since July 2008 after police in Geneva angered Tripoli by arresting a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on charges -- later dropped -- of abusing domestic staff. Libya denies there is any link between the case of the two Swiss men and the Geneva arrest.
The diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland took on a Europe-wide dimension last week when Tripoli, in retaliation for Switzerland imposing visa restrictions on some Libyans, said it would stop issuing entry visas to most European citizens.
"The surrender of the two Swiss men from the embassy came in the framework of the implementation of the law. Libya is keen on implementing the law," senior Libyan Justice Ministry official Khaled Kouayeb told reporters outside the Swiss embassy.
"The first Swiss, Hamdani, is innocent and he was allowed to leave the country and go home and the second Swiss is going to prison to carry out his four-month jail term," said Kouayeb, who was one of the officials who met Goeldi outside the embassy.
Tripoli had issued the deadline to Switzerland on Sunday night to hand over the two men by midday (1000 GMT) or face unspecified consequences.
Dozens of police surrounded the embassy building at one point, but these numbers were reduced before Hamdani, and then Goeldi, emerged from the compound.
The diplomatic row has threatened to undermine Europe’s booming business ties with Libya, an oil producer that has been attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment since it emerged from decades of international isolation.
Libyan officials had indicated previously that Hamdani would be allowed to leave Libya because he was acquitted of all the charges against him, but the sticking point was Tripoli’s demand that Goeldi serve his sentence.
A police source said Goeldi was taken to the Ain Zara prison on the outskirts of Tripoli, where inmates serving short sentences are usually imprisoned.
There was no indication whether the end of the embassy stand-off would lead to a solution in the parallel row over Libya’s decision to stop issuing visas to citizens of countries in the Schengen area, which includes most European states.