Egypt Evacuations Ease; Some Arriving Come Armed

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CAIRO (AP) - The United Nations began to evacuate much of its Egypt-based staff Thursday, adding to a foreign exodus that has ramped up flights out of Cairo as an uprising shakes the nation. Few passengers were flying to the strife-torn city, and several of those were caught trying to bring in bulletproof vests or weapons.

The U.N. said nearly 300 Egypt-based staff and their families were airlifted to Cyprus on two flights. A third flight was en route to bring another 100 U.N. staff and their dependents, said spokesman Rolando Gomez. The world body had said it was temporarily relocating the staff because of the security situation. Some, however, were remaining behind to continue carrying out "essential functions."

Briton Eva Abdin, who works for the World Health Organization in Cairo, arrived in Cyprus aboard the second flight and said she had not felt threatened in the area where she lived in the capital.

"I hope it'll be all over soon, and we can get back to normal," said Abdin. "We didn't want to leave."

For several days governments have been evacuating their nationals - or those of other countries - from Egypt, where more-than-week-old protests turned violent when supporters of President Hosni Mubarak confronted demonstrators demanding his ouster. Foreign governments were sending in planes as quickly as they could to move their nationals out.

More than 5,000 people trying to leave Egypt converged on Cairo's international airport Thursday, but that crowd was far smaller than those earlier in the crisis. By the start of the 5 p.m. curfew, the crowd was down to less than 700 and the numbers were dropping.

The United States has flown out around 2,200 Americans, including 230 who left Thursday on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, and another flight with 65 more that was awaiting departure that night. No flights were planned for Friday, and Americans were urged to look at commercial flights that day, or contact the State Department (202-501-4444) for additional help. Some U.S.-chartered flights may leave on Saturday.

Italy's foreign minister said 4,500 Italian citizens had been evacuated from Egypt since the protests began while some 14,000 remain in the country, while Austria's foreign ministry says there are an estimated 1,000 tourists still in Egypt and that a total of 11 flights - mostly charter flights - were planned from Thursday through Saturday.

Britain said a government charter flight was returning from Cairo on Thursday with 180 British nationals, and confirmed it would send a second plane to Egypt to help nationals unable to book on commercial carriers.

Some of those few passengers arriving in Cairo fell afoul of the law because they came braced for the worst.

A group of Chinese journalists was detained after customs officials discovered bulletproof vests and more than 20 satellite phones and walkie-talkies in their baggage, airport officials said. The journalists were released after the items in question - which require government permits or are banned altogether - were confiscated.

Separately, five Egyptians who arrived on a flight from Kenya were arrested after knives and whips were found in their checked luggage, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. The passengers told authorities the weapons were for self-defense.

National carrier EgyptAir, which has been unable to muster enough crew for most of its flights, managed to launch 43 international and domestic flights - still around a third of its normally scheduled departures. Even so, flights are up dramatically - 60 percent in the past week according to the Eurocontrol air traffic agency - because of chartered flights to evacuate foreigners.

The violence and uncertainty gripping Egypt are battering its vital tourism sector. Egypt's new vice president said in an interview with state television that the country has lost $1 billion in revenue because of the exodus.

European tour operator TUI said the upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia - where an uprising weeks earlier led to the ouster of that country's authoritarian president - could cost it up to 30 million pounds ($48.5 million). Most of the losses are expected to come from the Egypt operation.

Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia, the carrier for Danish tour operator Spies, said it is flying guests from all Danish tour operators out of Egypt - a total 3,222 of guests and guides - on Friday. Spies and Danish tour operator Star Tour also said they had canceled all Egypt trips through March 31, offering guests destinations in Spain instead.


Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus. Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna, David Stringer in London, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Victor Simpson in Rome contributed to the report.