Evacuees arrive in Paris from Georgia

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About 260 evacuees who arrived in Paris Tuesday talk about the climate of fear in the capital Tbilisi.

12 August 2008

PARIS - Some 170 French tourists and 91 other foreign nationals evacuated from Georgia touched down in Paris Tuesday, speaking of a climate of "fear" in the capital Tbilisi.

Looking exhausted following their night-time flight on board a French government-chartered aircraft, the 261 evacuees told of the traumatic past few days of fighting between Georgia and Russia.

"The atmosphere in Tbilisi is very heavy. People feel alone, they are afraid," said Alain Noel, 39, dark lines under his eyes, who was evacuated with his nine-month old baby.

"In Gori I saw people fleeing, I saw holes from the bombing," said 24-year-old law student Nicolas Papiashvili, a French citizen born in Georgia who was repatriated along with his younger brother and sister.

"They are going to destroy everything," warned Tamara Meliava, a Frenchwoman of Georgian origin.

Flown to Paris on a French Airbus A340 that left for Georgia Monday carrying humanitarian supplies, the evacuees included 170 French nationals, most of them tourists, but also nationals from Algeria, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Spain, Norway and Georgia itself, a French foreign ministry statement said.

The aircraft was to leave again for Georgia later Tuesday with a second shipment of aid and medicines.

"As with the first round, on its way back the aircraft will transport French and European nationals currently stranded in Tbilisi," the ministry said.

The French embassy in Tbilisi has stressed it is not carrying out a forced evacuation but that safe passage back to France has been offered to those who wanted to leave Georgia.

There were some 400 French nationals registered in Georgia before the conflict with Russia broke out.

Francoise, part of a 30-strong tour group visiting Armenia and Georgia, said they had barely been in Georgia a few hours before their coach was "overflown by fighter jets that dropped two bombs on a nearby hangar."

In the Armenian capital Yerevan the French embassy also said it was assisting French nationals who wished to leave Georgia and that 66 French tourists had already crossed the border into Armenia.

Some 2,000 foreign nationals including diplomats and international organisation employees, as well as 7,500 Armenians, have been evacuated to Armenia since the start of the conflict, the Armenian foreign ministry said.

In London the Foreign Office said Britain was "strongly encouraging" its citizens to leave Georgia.

Britain has also strengthened its warning to people thinking of visiting Georgia, advising against all travel there, a spokeswoman said.

Britain is organising coaches from Tbilisi to Yerevan in Armenia for those who want to leave, she said, while other Britons are travelling on French flights from Tbilisi to Paris and others on German coaches out of Tbilisi.

At the weekend, there were 360 Britons registered in Georgia either on holiday or living there.

Some 35 British nationals were expected to leave Tuesday, while an unspecified number of others have already departed, and five dependants of embassy staff are also set to go.

There are around 30 British embassy staff in Tbilisi who are remaining and have been joined by reinforcements, the spokeswoman said.

[AFP / Expatica]

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