EVAC­U­A­TION:

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Jim Gomez

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte or­dered the mil­i­tary to pre­pare to de­ploy its air­craft and ships “at any mo­ment's no­tice” to evac­u­ate thou­sands of Filipino work­ers in Iraq and Iran should hos­til­i­ties erupt there.

MANILA, Philip­pines — Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte or­dered the mil­i­tary to pre­pare to de­ploy its air­craft and ships “at any mo­ment’s no­tice” to evac­u­ate thou­sands of Filipino work­ers in Iraq and Iran should vi­o­lence break out, re­flect­ing Asia’s grow­ing fears for its cit­i­zens in the in­creas­ingly volatile Mid­dle East.

Other Asian na­tions with large pop­u­la­tions of ex­pa­tri­ate la­bor may face sim­i­lar de­ci­sions amid the rapidly es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions be­tween the United States and Iran fol­low­ing last week’s U.S. airstrike that killed Ira­nian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Bagh­dad.

South Korean gov­ern­ment min­istries have dis­cussed strength­en­ing pro­tec­tions for the nearly 1,900 South Kore­ans in Iraq and Iran. In­dian for­eign min­istry spokesman Raveesh Ku­mar said In­dia wasn’t plan­ning to evac­u­ate any cit­i­zens from the volatile re­gion “yet.”

Duterte held an emer­gency meet­ing with his de­fense sec­re­tary and top mil­i­tary and po­lice of­fi­cials Sun­day to dis­cuss the evac­u­a­tion plans.

“Pres­i­dent Duterte or­dered the Armed Forces of the Philip­pines to be pre­pared to de­ploy mil­i­tary as­sets to repa­tri­ate over­seas Filipinos in the Mid­dle East, par­tic­u­larly from Iran and Iraq, at any mo­ment’s no­tice,” said Sen. Christo­pher Lawrence Go.

Duterte ex­pressed fears Mon­day that the Philip­pines may have to carry out mas­sive evac­u­a­tions if vi­o­lence hits Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries like Saudi Ara­bia that host large num­bers of Filipino work­ers.

“I’m ner­vous. Iran seems to be hell­bent on a re­tal­i­a­tion, which I think will come. It’s a mat­ter of time; the cry for blood is there,” Duterte said in a speech. He urged Congress to hold a spe­cial session on the ef­fect of a pos­si­ble cri­sis in the Mid­dle East and set aside con­tin­gency funds.

Iran has vowed to re­tal­i­ate and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump warned that U.S. forces would hit back if Amer­i­cans come un­der at­tack. Iraq’s Par­lia­ment has called for the ex­pul­sion of all U.S. troops from Iraqi soil, which could re­vive the Is­lamic State group in Iraq, mak­ing the Mid­dle East a far more dan­ger­ous and un­sta­ble place.

Com­pound­ing con­tin­gency plans is the un­cer­tainty where hos­til­i­ties could pos­si­bly break out.

Mil­i­tary chief of staff Lt. Gen. Fe­limon San­tos Jr. said Philip­pine forces have iden­ti­fied pos­si­ble evac­u­a­tion routes not only in Iraq and Iran but other hot spots, like Is­rael.

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