Countries warn citizens to avoid Egypt

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Travel agencies postponed departures for Egypt Saturday as capitals issued new warnings to their citizens to avoid visiting the country where thousands of protesters have clashed with security forces.

"The Japanese government advises those planning to travel or stay in any part of Egypt to postpone the plan for whatever the purpose is," the Japanese foreign ministry said.

The government also urged Japanese nationals already in Egypt to leave the country if they can do so, or to stay away from demonstrations and rallies, and "never try to take photos of protesters or police officers."

The ministry also set up an emergency taskforce, headed by Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, ordering diplomatic missions in the Middle East and Africa to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens in the region.

Australia upgraded its security warning for Egypt, urging travellers to think twice before visiting the country.

The travel advisory upgrade lifted the warning for Egypt to the second highest of "reconsider your need to travel", the same as is current for Tunisia and Lebanon.

Australia's highest warning is "do not travel."

"We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Egypt because of ongoing civil unrest and the high threat of terrorist attack," the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade advisory stated.

"If you are currently in Egypt, and concerned about the security situation, you should consider leaving if it is safe to do so."

Australia also warned that it continued to receive reports of terror attacks being planned on a range of targets, including places frequented by foreigners in Egypt.

"Tourist areas throughout Egypt, especially the Red Sea and Sinai resorts, are potential terrorist targets," it said. "Past terrorist attacks have targeted foreign tourists and places of worship."

In Europe, Belgian travel agents decided to suspend all departures of package tours for Egypt until Tuesday, but did not plan to repatriate tourists already there.

The national travel agents' association said operators were altering tours to avoid the main cities like Cairo and Alexandria, but added that the situation in the Red Sea resorts was normal.

Association chief Veerle De Boeck said some 4,000 Belgian tourists were currently in Egypt, most of them in the resorts, where things remained "very calm."

French travel agents made a similar decision late Friday, and were to meet again Saturday to review the situation.

A number of European countries have advised against visiting Egypt, including Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as the United States and Israel.

One of Switzerland's largest tour operators, Hotelplan, was offering free cancellations or changes to trips booked to Cairo until February 15, and checking existing travellers there, spokeswoman Prisca Huguenin-dit-Lenoir said.

But the company insisted there was no danger for tourists in the popular Red Sea resorts and the ancient sites of the Nile valley, and made no changes for tours there.

Polish airline LOT said it had cancelled a Warsaw-Cairo flight late Friday because of the Egyptian curfew, and the return flight Saturday as a result, and was watching developments.

Kuwait meanwhile was bringing citizens and residents home from Egypt on free flights, Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Roudhan al-Roudhan said.

These orders have been "given to officials in Kuwait Airways who are to coordinate efforts with Cairo International Airport, in order to allow extra flights to land in the airport," state news agency KUNA reported.

© 2011 AFP

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