Pakistan airlifts British ministers away from protest

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Pakistan on Wednesday airlifted two British cabinet ministers away from angry protesters after they visited an area ravaged by the country's catastrophic floods, the visiting delegation said.

British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Conservative Party chairwoman and minister without portfolio, had visited flood-hit areas in the country's volatile northwest.

Officials said that at no point was their security under threat, and Mitchell praised the Pakistani military for acting swiftly.

"We came back to Islamabad by a circuitous route. The ministerial party had to be re-routed to avoid a large, ongoing public protest as a precaution," Mitchell told a news conference in the capital.

"We were returned to Islamabad by a helicopter, without getting in the way of its operational duties, and are now continuing with our programme.

"I'd like to thank the Pakistan army for facilitating this so promptly and efficiently, and indeed the close protection officers from Pakistan and Britain who so quickly got us out of that difficult situation."

Officials said the protest over electricity blocked the main road between Islamabad and the northwestern city of Peshawar. Power cuts have been exacerbated by the worst floods in 80 years which have ravaged infrastructure.

Mitchell said the protest was "totally unrelated" to British activities or the "very severe difficulties" in Pakistan "occasioned by the flooding".

He announced further British support to help fight the spread of disease and provide shelter, food and medical supplies, which will mean that British aid will now benefit up to three million people affected by the floods.

"This for me has been an emotional day. I have not in my lifetime seen such extraordinary deprivation and such extraordinary loss and misery," he said.

Britain's coalition government has slammed the "pitiful" international response to Pakistan's floods and called on other countries to do more, earmarking 31.3 million pounds (48.9 million dollars) in aid.

Ties between London and Islamabad recently soured after Prime Minister David Cameron said Pakistan could not be permitted to "look both ways" in promoting the export of terror while publicly working for stability in the region.

© 2010 AFP

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