Ireland is sending two air force planes to Malta to stand by for a possible airlift of citizens from turmoil-wracked Libya, the Irish government said.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who is also acting foreign minister, approved the immediate deployment of two Irish Air Corps planes after consultations with Defence Minister Eamon O Cuiv.

They will "stand by for a possible airlift evacuation" from Libya tomorrow.

It added that according to information available to the Irish embassy in Rome, which is accredited to Libya, around 40 Irish citizens are seeking to leave the country.

The decision to send the planes "follows increasing concern in relation to their safety arising from the latest assessment of the deteriorating political situation" in Libya, the statement said.

Germany is also understood to be considering basing a plane in Malta for the same purpose.

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