Governments scramble to fly citizens out of Egypt

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Governments started arranging for planes on Sunday to bring home citizens stuck in Egypt, where violent protests against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak have given way in some parts of Cairo to looting. The United States and Turkey offered to evacuate citizens wanting to leave and major airlines including Lufthansa and Air India said they would send additional aircraft to Cairo and Alexandria. The Greek foreign ministry said at least two Greek military aircraft were on standby. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki dispatched his presidential plane to Egypt to pick up Iraqi citizens, and the transport ministry ordered free transport for Iraqis living in Egypt on Iraqi Airways planes, a ministry spokesman said. Some European companies started evacuating their staff, and witnesses reported scenes of chaos at Cairo airport, as people, including Egyptians, tried to catch a decreasing number of operational flights. The Japanese government was preparing to use chartered planes to fly out 600 Japanese national stranded at or around Cairo, Kyodo news agency reported. Egypts tourism industry, which provides about one in eight jobs in a country beset by high unemployment, took a hit in 1997 when gunmen killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians at an ancient temple in Luxor and after the September 11, 2001, attacks. However, decreases in tourist levels have previously been temporary, and the industrys trend over the last decade has been broadly upward. Some countries advised their citizens to leave Egypt or avoid travelling to major cities there if possible, although Russian and German tourists at Red Sea resorts made no move to cut short their holidays. Britain recommended its citizens leave Cairo, Suez and Alexandria where it is safe to do so, and the US State Department moved to reduce diplomatic staff in Egypt. The Philippines foreign ministry readied a 25 million pesos (357,435) standby emergency fund for the evacuation of about 6,600 Filipinos from Egypt if necessary, while Thailand advised about 2,600 Thais in the country to stay put. They have been asked to stay indoors with food and water in case of an emergency, Thai ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said, adding there was no need for an evacuation at this point. Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell planned to evacuate about 60 families of its international staff from Egypt as a safety measure, a source close to the company told Reuters. In the residential area of Cairo, two big buses were parked outside the offices of the Italian oil firm ENI to evacuate families, witnesses said. One foreign employee of the company said his wife and three children would go but he would stay. There was no immediate comment from ENI. Its not an issue during the day, its at night when we dont know what will happen, the employee said. Near the buses was a four-wheel-drive vehicle with security men. Several foreign families were waiting to board the buses. In Baku, an Azeri Foreign Ministry spokesman said an accountant at the Azeri embassy in Egypt was killed in street clashes in Cairo late on Saturday on his way home from work. The spokesman said the government was sending a plane to Cairo on Sunday to pick up the body and evacuate about 70 Azeris studying in Egypt. Most of the estimated 40,000 Russians holidaying in Egypt have no plans to cut short their trips despite the protests, the acting head of the Russian Federal Tourism Agency, Alexander Radkov, told Interfax news agency on Saturday. On the whole, the situation in Egyptian resorts remains calm ...People do not want to interrupt their holiday, he said. Tour operator TUI Deutschland said cancellations and rebookings of trips to the Red Sea coast had so far not increased, and Thomas Cook flew a fresh batch of tourists to the region from Germany on Sunday. Our guests are doing fine. And none of them have said they want to come home now, a Thomas Cook spokeswoman said. But Belgian travel agency Jetair, owned by TUI Travel, said on its website it was working on an evacuation plan due to start on Monday for its customers who are in Egypt. Belgian media said about 1,700 tourists were subject to the plan. The company was not immediately available for comment.

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