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France mulls Egypt tourist evacuation

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French foreign minister Laurent Fabius. Photo: AFP
09:45 CEST+02:00
Egypt's tourism industry was facing meltdown on Friday as France, Britain, Italy and a slew of other governments advised visitors to stay in their hotels and tour operators began cancelling trips to the crisis-hit country.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated that a possible evacuation of French nationals was being kept under review.

"We will see how the situation evolves," he said, adding that, in the meantime, citizens in Egypt were "very strongly advised to stay at home."

Fears of nationwide unrest in the wake of a violent crackdown by the military-backed interim government earlier this week have resulted in a string of countries issuing official advice against all but essential travel to the land of the Pyramids.

Tourists already in the country are being told to stay in their hotels and resorts, even in areas untouched by the troubles, adding to a sense of insecurity that has hit the beleaguered sector hard.

Tourism is a vital component of the Egyptian economy, accounting for more than 11 percent of GDP before the current wave of political instability began with the Arab Spring in 2011.

Travel groups Thomas Cook and TUI announced Friday they were cancelling all holidays from Germany to Egypt until September 15th in light of the uncertain security situation.

Tour operators in Belgium, Jetair and Thomas Cook, cancelled all flights to Egypt until the end of August, the Belga news agency reported.

Britain extended an earlier travel warning to include the popular Red Sea resorts, which had been considered safe until this week's events.

It said specifically that British nationals in the resort of Hurghada should stay in their hotels, in line with advice received from the Egyptian police following a death in the city on Wednesday.

"Hurghada police advised tourists to remain in hotel grounds. We advise you to follow their advice," a statement from the Foreign Office said. 

"You are strongly advised to avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings. If you become aware of any nearby protests, leave the area immediately. Do not attempt to cross road blocks erected by the security forces or protesters."

British travel association ABTA estimates that there are currently around 40,000 Britons in Red Sea resorts such as Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh, which is an eight-hour drive from Cairo.

Britain-based Thomas Cook said it had cancelled excursions from the Red Sea resorts to Cairo, Luxor, Moses's mountain and Saint Catherine's monastery.

But a spokeswoman added: "Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada are fully operational and holidaymakers are continuing to enjoy these popular resorts."

Germany and Spain followed suit with similar warnings.

Russia, which has more than 50,000 of its nationals currently on holiday in Egypt and a similar number booked to go there in the coming months, advised travel agents to stop selling packages to the north African state.

Tour operators in Finland, Norway and Sweden said they would be repatriating all their clients over the weekend, with many of them cutting short their holidays. The companies involved have also suspended further departures for Egypt for at least the next month and until mid-October in certain cases.

Italy, Austria and Belgium warned their citizens to avoid Egypt altogether.

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Italy, which has an estimated 19,000 citizens in Egypt, strengthened an earlier alert to advise against all travel to the country, citing "a progressive deterioration of general security".

The Italian foreign ministry had earlier said the security situation in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula was "very precarious".

"There is a risk of terrorist attacks," it said.

The federation of Italian tour operators Fiavet said earlier this week that there had been an 80-percent drop in the number of Italians visiting Egypt this year.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told citizens already in Egypt they could continue their holidays, saying the "situation is relatively calm" at tourist resorts.

But, he warned, "the past few days have shown how quickly the situation can deteriorate."

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