Countries evacuate citizens as Egypt crisis worsens


Countries around the globe have stepped up evacuations of foreign tourists and workers from Egypt amid growing protests to force out beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak.

In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Janice Jacobs said at least 2,600 Americans in Egypt have asked US officials for help in leaving.

More than 1,200 left the country Monday on nine flights headed for Larnaca in Cyprus, Istanbul and Athens, according to the State Department.

“We want to make sure that anyone who needs our help is getting that, and so, yes, I do expect those numbers to go up over the next few days,” Jacobs said.

“We are encouraging Americans who want to take advantage of these charter flights to go to the airport, but I should say that people should be prepared for a very long wait.”

Chaotic scenes unfolded at Cairo airport as authorities struggled to cope with an influx of thousands of departing passengers.

At least six more flights for US citizens were planned on Tuesday, and about 40 extra consular staff have been deployed to Cairo and the three arrival points in a bid to speed up evacuations, officials said.

China will send at least four more planes to evacuate up to 2,000 Chinese travellers in Egypt, which has been engulfed by more than a week of street protests, according to aviation authorities.

Two planes were reportedly expected to leave China on Tuesday, after two other airliners were dispatched to Egypt on Monday to pick up 480 citizens stranded at Cairo’s airport.

Two additional planes would be sent on Wednesday, one of which would fly to Luxor to pick up about 200 Hong Kong tourists stranded there, the administration said in a statement.

More planes would be dispatched if needed, it said, adding that it was endeavouring to bring as many Chinese nationals home as possible before the Lunar New Year, which begins on Thursday.

“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the security of Chinese citizens in Egypt, and has coordinated relevant airlines to increase flights to bring back stranded Chinese citizens,” said a foreign ministry source quoted by Xinhua news agency.

Turkey said it had brought 1,144 of its citizens home aboard five specially chartered aircraft of Turkish Airlines from Cairo and Alexandria on Sunday night, in addition to 330 flown back over the weekend.

Indonesia ordered its citizens to leave Egypt, where more than 6,000 are believed to reside, and promised to dispatch military aircraft to bring them home.

Japan said it was sending emergency charter planes to evacuate hundreds of Japanese, some of whom have already left while many others were stranded at Cairo airport.

Thai Airways planned a special flight to Cairo to repatriate Thai tourists, but noted there were problems to overcome such as ground servicing and refueling as it had no regular services to the Egyptian capital.

Air India chartered a plane to bring back 320 Indians and decided to divert another flight from its regular Mumbai-Jeddah route to pick up more, airport sources told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Tunisair said it would be ferrying 150 Tunisians back to the country whose own toppling of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sparked the Egyptian unrest.

While tour operators in many countries were planning to bring clients back earlier than scheduled and canceled further excursions, they said the situation in the main beach resorts on the Red Sea remained calm.

Foreign companies also began bringing home expatriate employees and their families.

France Telecom and building materials company Saint Gobain said they were following the example of other French groups, cement firm Lafarge and bank Credit Agricole, and repatriating some 50 people.

Lafarge, which employs 70 expatriates in Egypt, and Italy’s Italcementi were halting cement production there, while Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moeller-Maersk also said it was suspending its activities.

In Germany, wholesale distributor Metro said it had brought back 20-30 employees, adding that its two hypermarkets in Cairo had been looted and were closed.

Energy group RWE said it had flown out some 90 people and vehicle maker Daimler fewer than 50.

Russian companies Lukoil and Novatek were also evacuating staff, but Moscow has given no order for some 40,000 tourists to come home and many were happy to stay on the beach, agencies said.

Saudi Arabia said it organized 33 flights between Saturday and Monday to take its nationals home.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for a “transition toward basic values of freedom, democracy, human rights and justice,” while up to 335 Canadians and other foreign nationals were flown out of the country aboard chartered aircraft to escape bloody anti-government protests.

Britain was advising its nationals to leave flashpoint Egyptian cities, but tour operators stressed there was no need to pull tourists out of popular Red Sea resorts.

France has also warned against unnecessary travel to Egypt, but foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Paris was not yet considering evacuating its roughly 10,000 citizens in the country.

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