Thousands evacuated from Egypt

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Massive demonstrations for political change in Egypt prompted Norwegian companies and tour operators to begin evacuating their employees and customers from the strife-torn country over the weekend. Norway’s Foreign Ministry is now urging against travel to Egypt unless absolutely necessary.

More than 3,000 Norwegians were believed to be in Egypt when the demonstrations, some of them violent, continued for the sixth straight day. With no signs of let-up and rising concerns over security, Norwegian employers and officials decided to bring their people home.

‘Best to get out’
“Given the situation now, it’s best to get out,” one employee of state oil company Statoil told news bureau NTB. Statoil recalled its Norwegian staff, driving several families to local airports in convoys.

Norwegian paint and chemical company Jotun closed in plant in Egypt and told its nearly 300 employees to stay home. “All production and other operations at the factory in Ismailia (north of Suez) have ceased,” Jotun communications chief Celin Huseby told NTB. She said the plant’s manager described the situation where he was in Cairo as “full anarchy.”

Norway’s embassy in Cairo received some reenforcement for its consular staffing, to help Norwegians in distress. Most of the roughly 3,000, however, are tourists and charter organizations were organizing their evacuation.

Leading tour operators including Star Tours and Apollo were scrambling to bring their customers home from popular destinations like Luxor, Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheik. Norwegian travel bureaus also cancelled all flights and tours to Egypt for the next several weeks.

Drama in Hurghada
One family described being caught in a demonstration in Hurghada’s historic center on Friday. Shops suddenly began closing up and power was cut to the restaurant where they were eating. The owner ushered them out the back door, but there they were also confronted by a crowd carrying iron rods. They made it back to their hotel, however, uninjured. Others sent by bus out of Luxor told of military checkpoints all along the route, and also at the airport, but noted they were set up to protect tourists.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called the situation in Egypt “deeply tragic” after lives were lost in demonstrations calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “This is a very strong expression of frustration and desperation among very many people in Egypt,” Stoltenberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) over the weekend. He tied their frustration to high food prices, high unemployment and economic problems at present, but also to years of a lack of freedom of expression and basic democracy.

There were signs, meanwhile, that Norway may gain on the uproar in Egypt given the rise in oil prices. Norwegian shipowners may also see far higher rates if traffic through the Suez Canal is disrupted.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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