People urged to leave Egypt

CAIRO — Foreign governments stepped up their warnings Sunday about travel to Egypt, with several urging their citizens to evacuate as soon as possible amid uncertainty over where the Arab nation is headed after nearly a week of mass protests.

The fears of foreign tourists mirrored those of many Egyptians. Dozens with the means to do so rented jets or hopped aboard their own planes in a mad dash that did little to boost confidence in the future of a country long viewed as a pillar of stability in a restive region. Those leaving included businessmen and celebrities.

The United States, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey and the Netherlands issued advisories encouraging nationals already in Egypt to leave and telling those who planned trips there to reconsider.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo said it was making arrangements to transport Americans who want to leave to "safehaven locations in Europe." Flights would begin today.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Janice Jacobs said it will take several flights in the coming days to accommodate all Americans who want to leave.

Jacobs, who is in charge of consular affairs, said the U.S. may also send planes to other cities in Egypt, such as Luxor, if there are a number of Americans stranded there. Americans taking the charter will be billed for the flight and must make their own travel arrangements home from Europe.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said its charter flights will begin as early as today to fly Canadians who wish to leave to locations in Europe.

A growing number of countries — including China, Australia, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Poland — warned against travel to most, if not all, of Egypt. Arab nations, including Iraq, either sent in jets or offered to do so.

"If I had a visa to anywhere, I'd join them. But that's not going to happen," said Mohammed Khaled, a 28-year-old Egyptian doctor. "Right now, I'd settle for a gun, but I can't even find one of those."

International oil companies and other Western firms began to weigh evacuating their employees' families — a move that may be mirrored by international schools catering to those workers.

Others weren't waiting for formal orders.

"We left behind a country with no order or security whatsoever," Mehmet Buyukocak, who worked in Egypt for six years, told Turkish news channel NTV upon arriving in Istanbul.

Even before the images of lawlessness, tourists were thronging to Cairo's airport as Mubarak faced the gravest challenge in his 30-year rule.

Many came without reservations, only to find a growing number of flights canceled, delayed or suspended. National carrier EgyptAir canceled or delayed 25 flights Sunday because of crew shortages.

The crowds swelled as passengers landed in Cairo after a 4 p.m. curfew began.

The airport took on the appearance of a marble-floored refugee camp. Airport officials said some travelers who had been there for several days came down with diarrhea, and were treated by doctors.

A growing number of Arab countries arranged for additional flights on larger jets to evacuate their citizens, as did a few other nations, including Azerbaijan and Turkey.