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Egypt withdraws embassy staffers from Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Egypt withdrew its embassy personnel from Tripoli Saturday, a spokesman for Libya's Foreign Ministry said, after gunmen abducted five of them overnight apparently in retaliation for the arrest of a Libyan militia leader in Egypt.

Egypt had earlier reported that its administrative attaché had been kidnapped in the Libyan capital late Friday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Asswad said four other Egyptian diplomats were snatched in the early hours of Saturday. Those kidnapped included the cultural attache, he added.

The abductions came hours after Libya's state news agency reported that Egyptian authorities had arrested Shaaban Hadiya, the commander of the Revolutionaries Operation Room militia. The Libyan government blamed the group for the abduction of Prime Minister Ali Zidan last year. It claims to answer to the army but is widely seen as operating independently.

Operation Room spokesman Adel al-Ghiryani called on Egypt to release Hadiya, who had travelled there for medical reasons. Al-Ghiryani told The Associated Press that he has no idea why Hadiya was detained, and he denied his group was involved in the kidnapping of the diplomats.

"We have no relation with this issue," he said. Egypt's state news agency says the embassy staffers were evacuated after the abductions. An airport official says that the military attache and other diplomats in the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli had arrived in Cairo with their families. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Kidnappings are rife in Libya, where the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi has left a security vacuum.

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