Portsmouth Warship Being Sent To Libya

David Cameron's vowed today that the Government will do "everything we can'' to evacuate hundreds of Britons still stranded in chaos-stricken Libya.

The Prime Minister promised more flights if necessary and said the Government is sending a second Royal Navy ship, the Portsmouth-based HMS York, to the waters off the North African state.

About 50 Britons are still in the capital, Tripoli, and fears are growing for up to 170 others in remote desert locations.

Speaking at Number 10 after meetings of the National Security Council and Cobra emergency planning committee, Mr Cameron said:

"We will do everything we can today and tomorrow to help those people and planning is under way to do just that.

"In the last 24 hours there have been six flights that have left Libya and that is good, and there will be more on the way if necessary.

"HMS Cumberland has now come out of Benghazi, bringing many, many British citizens out of Benghazi and we have also helped citizens of 25 other countries.

"I have also asked HMS York to go into the area and help out if necessary.

"But I would say that people do need to leave now and that is the message that I give very strongly to British citizens in Libya.

"For those in the desert, we will do everything we can and we are active on that right now to help get you out.''

Mr Cameron's comments follow criticism that the UK Government's response to the crisis has been slow and incompetent.

More than 500 Britons have been helped to leave Libya but up to another 500 remain stranded, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said.

There is particular concern for the scores of British oil workers stuck in the desert, at risk from attacks and looting as the area is ravaged by violence.

SAS troops are understood to be ready to move in to evacuate them, although the Ministry of Defence refuses to comment on the movements of Special Forces.

Three charter flights have already returned to the UK carrying people fleeing the chaos-torn country and a fourth is due to take off from the Libyan capital Tripoli later today.

In addition, Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland rescued 207 people, including around 68 Britons, from Libya's second city, Benghazi, last night.

The warship is taking them to Valetta in Malta, but atrocious weather and rough seas are hampering progress and it is not expected to arrive until late tonight or early tomorrow.

The FCO warned that Tripoli Airport was becoming more dangerous.

It said:

"The security situation at the airport has been deteriorating in recent hours and the route to the airport is becoming more precarious. We continue to monitor the situation closely.

"We are also aware of 42 British nationals currently on a US ferry in Tripoli harbour. We recommend that they stay on board as the route to the airport is now unsafe. Consular staff are in contact with them.''

The FCO said it was ready to provide extra charter flights from Tripoli if needed and it is understood that the RAF is on stand-by to evacuate more Britons using military aircraft.

More than 1,000 calls have come in to the FCO in London over the past 24 hours from British nationals wanting to leave Libya and their families and colleagues in the UK.

Mr Cameron added:

"The message is very clear: that the violence we have seen is appalling and unacceptable.

"I have this very clear message for people in that regime, this warning for people in that regime - the world is watching you and the world will hold you to account.

"Britain, through the United Nations, is pressing for asset seizures, for travel bans, for sanctions, for all of the things that we can do to hold those people to account, including investigating for potential crimes against humanity, or war crimes, or crimes against their people.

"People working for this regime should remember that international justice has a long reach and a long memory and they will be held to account for what they do.''

Asked whether military force would be considered, the Prime Minister said:

"We will do what is necessary to keep people safe and we will do what is necessary to bring our people back.

"People in that regime should recognise that the world is watching what they do and they have a very clear warning that through the United Nations, Britain and others will be pushing for the asset seizures, for the travel bans and for work in terms of investigating crimes which may have been committed, that could be committed, to make sure no-one is beyond the reach of international law.''

In Libya, leader Colonel Gaddafi continued to voice defiance in a telephone interview with state television, urging the population to confront the protesters and insisting he would not stand down.

"There are people who have been in power longer than me, like Queen Elizabeth of Britain,'' he said.

In the rambling call he also accused al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden of being behind the uprising.

Mr Gaddafi's comments came as the violence, which has seen rebels take control of much of the eastern part of the nation, continued.