1 Feb 2011

Commercial flights best option to leave Egypt - PM

10:02 pm on 1 February 2011

The Government will send military planes or organise charter flights to get New Zealanders out of Egypt if it becomes necessary, but says commercial flights are still the best option for now.

More than 140 people have died in a week of unprecedented rallies against poverty and corruption, as protesters try to force President Hosni Mubarak from office and end his 30-year rule.

A massive demonstration is to be held in Cairo on Tuesday as protesters step up efforts. Organisers have called for 1 million people to take to the streets.

Prime Minister John Key says the Government has block bookings with several airlines and is working with other countries to make sure New Zealanders will be able to leave if they have to.

Mr Key says the situation is very fluid and the Government is monitoring events closely.

At this stage, he says there are no plans to send New Zealand military planes to Cairo but that could change as events unfold, though they are unlikely to get there before the weekend.

Some 299 New Zealanders are registered as being in Egypt. Mr Key says as of Tuesday, 60 people have already left and 120 are thinking about going.

Of the others, seven are at Cairo International Airport with confirmed flights out, 34 are waiting at home and 12 tourists are looking to leave in the next few days.

The Prime Minister says that information is based on people who have registered with the embassy in Cairo and is urging anyone who has not been in contact to do as soon as they can.

Mr Key says there been discussions with Australia, which has chartered a Qantas jet to evacuate its nationals to London or Frankfurt.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said on Tuesday 240 people had so far registered for the flight and its government will wait and see how many board the plane before making decisions about further flights.

The United States, China, Canada, Turkey, India and Saudi Arabia are among other countries evacuating their citizens.

The Labour Party believes the Government should be chartering its own plane. Foreign affairs spokesperson Maryan Street says almost every Government in the world is providing an escape route for its citizens.

"It is our Government's responsibility to provide a way out for those people - because they are at serious risk," she says.

The Green Party says the Government should be calling for the Egyptian president to step down.

Evacuations considered - ambassador

New Zealand ambassador to Egypt Rene Wilson says close consideration is being given to an evacuation and that developments are being monitored.

He says European countries have not organised evacuations yet and denies that the New Zealand response to the crisis has been too slow.

"Many of our community have decided to stay here but there are some that do want to get out," he told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme.

"The numbers at the moment are not great, and commercial flights are still flying."

Mr Wilson says New Zealand officials are co-ordinating with their Australian counterparts.

"The Australians have been taking some food out to their people (at the airport), and so we're just making sure we're getting in on that too, and doing the same thing."

Vodafone evacuates staff

Vodafone New Zealand has evacuated its two New Zealand staff and other foreign employees from Cairo, while 180 Egyptian call centre staff have been put on paid leave.

The company's Cairo call centre, which looks after non-business customers in New Zealand, has been unable to open for the past three days due to widespread political unrest in the capital.

Tourist glad to be out

New Zealander Craig Cochrane, who was caught up in the protests, says he is glad to be out of Egypt.

Mr Cochrane, from New Plymouth but based in London, managed to catch a flight back to Britain, via Lebanon.

He says it was difficult to get out of the country, but he was able to get a seat on a plane full of British nationals.