Holidaymakers evacuated as Tunisia reopens airspace

Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay

Tunisia’s civil aviation authority on Saturday reopened all airports and the country's airspace, a day after president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia following violent anti-government protests.


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

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

Meanwhile TUI Travel, which operates Thomson and First Choice, said it was bringing more than 1,500 customers back to Britain from Tunisia.

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

Two of the flights were to London Gatwick Airport and four to Manchester in northwest England.

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

Belgian tour operator Jetair, meanwhile, said it would on Saturday return around 1,000 holidaymakers.

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.

France and Britain both warned against travelling to Tunisia.

The French foreign ministry estimates there are up to 22,000 French citizens in Tunisia, most of them dual French-Tunisian nationals.

- With AFP

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