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Middle East
Chaos reigns at Cairo airport
Scenes of anger and confusion at capital's international airport as thousands of foreigners seek to flee unrest.
Last Modified: 31 Jan 2011 15:24 GMT
Alitalia said it would continue to fly to Egypt but on schedules adjusted to accommodate the curfew [Reuters]

There have been scenes of chaos at Cairo's international airport as thousands of foreigners sought to flee the unrest in Egypt, and countries around the world scrambled to send in planes to fly their citizens out.

On Monday, there were reports of shouting matches and even fist fights as thousands of people seeking a flight home crammed inside the capital's new Terminal Three.

In an attempt to reduce tensions, the airport's departures board stopped announcing flight times - but the move simply fuelled anger over cancelled or delayed flights.

Check-in counters were poorly staffed after many EgyptAir employees had been unable to get to work due to a 3pm to 8am curfew and traffic breakdowns across the city.

"It's an absolute zoo, what a mess," Justine Khanzadian, a 23-year-old graduate student from the American University of Cairo, said.

Khanzadian, who was among those waiting at the airport for hours to leave, said "I decided to leave because of the protests, the government here is just not stable enough to stay."

By midday, an announcement filtered through the crowd instructing groups of Danish, German, Chinese, British and Canadian passengers that their governments had sent planes to evacuate them, prompting a stampede toward the gates.

US evacuation

A US military plane landed at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus on Monday afternoon ferrying 42 US embassy officials and their dependents from Egypt.

James Ellickson-Brown from the US embassy in Nicosia said at least one more plane was expected on Monday with about 180 people on board - most of them US citizens.

Janice Jacobs, US assistant secretary of state, has said it will take several flights over the coming days to fly out the 2,400 Americans who want to leave Egypt via Europe. This group is a small fraction of the 52,000 Americans currently registered with the embassy in Cairo.

EgyptAir resumed its flights on Monday morning after a roughly 14-hour break because of the curfew and its inability to field enough crew.

Over 20 hours, only 26 of about 126 EgyptAir flights operated, airport officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

The officials said many countries were working to evacuate their citizens, with Turkey sending five flights, Israel and Russia sending two planes each and the Czech Republic one.

They said those additional flights had helped ease the airport's swelling and restless crowds, but those gains were likely to be short-lived as other foreigners and Egyptians poured in.

Turkey's foreign ministry said it had facilitated the evacuation of 1,548 Turkish nationals thus far.

Hundreds of Indian nationals were evacuated, with 316 arriving on Monday in Mumbai on board a special Air India flight and another 275 expected to reach the western city later in the day.

China sent two planes on Monday and was sending two more charter flights on Tuesday to help pick up an estimated 500 Chinese stranded in Cairo.

Beijing has issued a travel warning and requested that its citizens not travel to Egypt, according to the Chinese embassy in Cairo, which also handed out food and water to Chinese citizens at the city's airport.

Travel warnings

The foreign ministries of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark on Sunday advised against all non-essential travel to Egypt and tour companies have cancelled trips to the country until February 23.

Tour operators say they will fly home all their customers this week when their holidays end, or on extra flights, stressing there has not been any unrest in Red Sea resort cities like Hurghada or Sharm el-Sheikh.

Britain's foreign office estimates about there are about 30,000 UK tourists and long-term residents in Egypt, but said on Monday that it has no plans to evacuate British citizens.

William Hague, the country's foreign minister, has advised against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez and recommended that people currently in those cities leave on commercial flights when they can.

The office of David Cameron, the British prime minister, said that unlike tourists from the US and other nations, most Britons are on vacation at beach resorts on the Red Sea - which so far have remained largely unaffected by the pro-democracy protests.

SAS Denmark said it would fly home about 60 Danes stuck at Cairo airport, who were supposed to return to Denmark with EgyptAir on Sunday but were left stranded.

Indonesia was sending a plane to Cairo to start evacuating about 6,150 Indonesian citizens - mostly students and workers.

Those who decided to stay behind should "remain alert, avoid crowded places, and communicate with our embassy", Marty Natalegawa, the country's foreign minister, said, urging those still planning to visit Egypt to reconsider.

An Azerbaijan flight carrying 80 adults, 23 children and the body of an Azeri embassy accountant killed in the unrest has arrived in Baku.

Air France cancelled its daily flight from Paris to Cairo on Monday. From Tuesday, its daily flight to Cairo will make a "technical stop" in Beirut, and was increasing its capacity on return flights - which will be direct - by an extra 200 seats to help bring passengers back to France.

Portugal sent a C-130 military transport plane to evacuate its citizens, and Greece put military planes on standby.

Czech travel agencies were cancelling their trips to Egypt, and the foreign ministry warned against non-essential travel. There were about 1,000 Czech tourists in Egypt.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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