Tourists evacuated from Tunisia

Reuters, Friday 14 Jan 2011

Holiday operator Thomas Cook is evacuating around 1,800 British and Irish tourists and 2,000 Germans from Tunisia in light of the political unrest and demonstrations, the company said.

Riot police officers detain a protestor during clashes in Tunis(AP)

Europe's biggest tour operators began evacuating nearly 6,000 holidaymakers from Tunisia on Friday as political unrest toppled the north African country's president.

Thomas Cook said around 2,000 German holidaymakers were being repatriated due to the violence, while a further 1,800 from Britain and Ireland were being flown home and 540 were set to return to Belgium.

TUI Travel, which operates Thomson and First Choice, said it was bringing more than 1,500 customers back to Britain from Tunisia, where tourism plays a major role in the economy.

Tunisia's veteran leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali quit the presidency and left the country on Friday, while Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said he had taken over after weeks of upheaval climaxed in bloody street protests.

Thomas Cook said three flights from the northeastern resort of Monastir had landed in Britain and it was pressing ahead with three more despite officials in Tunisia saying that the country's airspace had closed.

Two of the flights were to London Gatwick Airport and four to Manchester in northwest England. Several planes had also taken German holidaymakers home to their country.

"Although there has been no specific problems for our holidaymakers, their well-being is our primary concern so, as a precaution, we've taken the decision to bring them back to the UK as soon as we can, using our fleet of aircraft," a spokeswoman said.

Thomas Cook Belgium however said due to the curfew it has had to cancel two evening flights and some 360 remaining clients would be brought home on Saturday morning.

Italy's Alitalia suspended all its flights to and from Tunisia for security reasons until Monday, the airline said in a statement, noting that its last flight left Tunis around 1700 GMT on Friday.
From Britain Thomas Cook cancelled its next departures to Tunisia, due out on Sunday, and it was reviewing the situation for flights on Wednesday.

TUI said a "rescue flight" to bring 100 passengers home had left Monastir for Manchester in northwest England and another 1,237 tourists would be brought home "as soon as possible."

"We will continue to take our advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and work closely with them," spokeswoman Louise Evans said.

It had earlier said it would not repatriate its 1,500 customers from Britain and 1,000 German customers, adding at the time that "the atmosphere among our clients is calm."

Four flights to Monastir on Sunday and three on Wednesday have been cancelled and passengers would be offered alternative options, it said. France and Britain both warned against travelling to Tunisia.

France, the former colonial power in Tunisia, "strongly" warned its citizens against all journeys to Tunisia that were not urgent.

The French foreign ministry estimates there are up to 22,000 French citizens in Tunisia, most of them dual French-Tunisian nationals.
Britain's Foreign Office said it was advising "against all but essential travel to Tunisia".

"The situation is unpredictable and there is the potential for violence to flare up, raising the risk of getting caught up in demonstrations," it said.
Approximately 400,000 tourists from Britain visit Tunisia annually.

The Association of British Travel Agents said it thought around 5,000 British tourists were currently in Tunisia.
Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal have given similar warnings.

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