January 31, 2011 / 5:30 AM / 9 years ago

Governments and firms evacuate citizens from Egypt

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Governments, airlines and tour operators worked together on Monday to fly their nationals out of Egypt where protesters pressed their campaign to topple President Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S. State Department said more than 1,200 Americans were evacuated on nine flights during the day on flights to Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. Another six flights were expected on Tuesday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

About 2,600 Americans have contacted the embassy requesting help leaving the country, he said. Up to 52,000 Americans are registered with the embassy in Cairo.

European airlines, including Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Air Berlin, said they were sending larger aircraft than usual to Egypt to meet demand and had agreed additional flights with foreign ministries.

Air Partner, which brokers charter aircraft, said it was working round the clock to help companies ranging from oil firms to supermarkets and telecoms groups to get employees out.

“By the close of business today, we will have flown 800 people out of Egypt on 14 flights to a range of safe havens, including Dubai, the U.S. and Europe,” it said in a statement.

Officials in Turkey and Cyprus said they were making contingency plans to receive tourists evacuated from Egypt and speed them on to their destinations.

Witnesses reported scenes of chaos at Cairo Airport on Sunday, with many people, including Egyptians, scrambling to get on a decreasing number of scheduled flights.

National carrier EgyptAir has canceled flights for overnight on Tuesday, according to state television.

The U.S. State Department advised Americans to prepare for a “substantial” wait at the airport and to bring food and water.

“We had to cut our trip short. We’ve been waiting for 48 hours to get on the plane, very much anxious to go back home,” said an elderly U.S. passenger arriving at Athens airport.

Alistair Burt, Britain’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa, told parliament the situation at the airport had eased from Sunday and while the majority of British nationals had been able to leave, 30 would stay there overnight.

Tourism is one of Egypt’s top sources of foreign revenue, accounting for more than 11 percent of GDP, and offers jobs in a country with high unemployment. In 2009, about 12.5 million tourists visited Egypt, bringing revenue of $10.8 billion.

TRAVEL WARNING

The German Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning on Sunday for Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, but described the situation at Red Sea resorts as calm for the moment.

German tour operator Rewe, with 3,100 customers in Egypt at present, advised customers booked on holidays to Egypt over the next week to cancel to relieve pressure on the infrastructure.

Britain advised against travel to Luxor, prompting tour operators TUI and Thomas Cook to cancel flights there.

Turkey said it was sending two Turkish Airlines planes to Egypt to evacuate Turkish nationals, while Greece said it had military aircraft on standby.

Russia urged its citizens not to travel to Egypt and advised those already in the country to come home.

“We emphatically urge citizens to heed the Foreign Ministry’s recommendation and refrain from trips to Egypt,” said the foreign ministry. About 40,000 Russians are estimated to be vacationing in Egypt, a favorite Russian tourist destination.

Greece said it had stepped up police and coastguard controls at sea and land borders to be ready for any influx of immigrants from Egypt. The southern Greek island of Crete is just a few hundred kilometers from Egypt.

Egypt’s tourism industry provides about one in eight jobs in the country. It was hit in 1997 when gunmen killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians at a temple in Luxor, and after the September 11, 2001 attacks but the trend has been upward for a decade.

Among the European companies to announce they had evacuated staff and families were energy groups such as BP, telecoms firm Nokia Siemens Networks and food giant Nestle.

Automakers Daimler, BMW and Nissan said they had shut down operations at plants in the country, while Volkswagen said it halted deliveries.

One of Europe’s largest retailers, Germany’s Metro, also said two of its stores in Egypt had been looted.

Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing, Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow, and international bureaux; Editing by Maria Golovnina and David Storey

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