Egypt protests: Britons back from Cairo tell of relief

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Media captionPassengers arriving at Heathrow Airport from Cairo speak of their relief to be home

Britons arriving back from Cairo have spoken of their "frightening" experiences and relief to be home from the protest-hit Egyptian capital.

Travellers said streets were unsafe and chaos had descended on Cairo airport.

The Foreign Office said no formal evacuation was under way but advised UK nationals in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez to leave if it was safe to do so.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has called for an "orderly transition" to a democratic government in Egypt.

In a joint call with US President Barack Obama, Mr Cameron said a "comprehensive process of political reform" was needed in the north African country.

Later, in an interview with BBC Breakfast, he said Egypt must "go down the path of reform and not repression", and bring in greater rights, greater freedoms and a better rule of law.

Asked whether that meant President Hosni Mubarak should stand aside, Mr Cameron said it would be "bad" for the UK, the US or others to try to pick new leaders.

"I think in the conversations we have with President Mubarak and others it is sensible to say 'You do have a choice here. This repression - if you opt for that, that will end badly for Egypt, badly for the world. It is the wrong choice.'"

In Egypt, UK nationals have been trying to leave the country, which has seen six days of violent demonstrations by protesters demanding an end to their president's 30-year rule.

David Lewis, from Manchester, had been visiting his niece but cut his holiday short. He said the situation had been "absolutely frightening" and he was "really lucky" to get a flight back home.

Image caption Egyptian-born Ahmed Osman, who lives in London, thinks the protests will be over in a few days

"It did not take us long to realise it was not safe to be out on the streets," he said.

"We were lying in bed at night hearing shots, looking out of the window seeing groups of men with sticks in their hands trying to protect their homes."

His niece, Carol Lewis, said she had been happily working as a teacher in Egypt for five months but it had "changed overnight" from Tuesday, when the protests began.

Geoff and Heather Booth, from Dronfield, Derbyshire, whose tour was cut to just two days because of the unrest, said they were not in the worst part but it was still "quite bad".

Mrs Booth told the BBC: "We saw lots of tanks going up and down the road, and lots of roadblocks.

"As long as we're safe that's the main thing."

Egyptian-born Ahmed Osman, 76, who lives in west London, said he doubted "the Egyptian people in general" supported the uprising and predicted it would be over in two or three days.

BBC correspondent Jon Leyne, who flew from London on British Airways on Monday, said Cairo airport was crowded, but the atmosphere was relaxed with calm, orderly queues.

However, one British Airways flight departing from Cairo on Monday was overbooked by about 40 passengers, he said.

An Egyptair flight was also due to arrive at Heathrow later on Monday.

But some people, including teacher Louisa Ramsden who is in Alexandria with her young family, say they have no way home.

"We have had no help from the embassy, from the British government. We don't know where to turn for help. We are stuck here," she said.

She added that the internet shutdown meant she could not book a flight online and, although a booking over the phone was possible, she was afraid how she would get to the airport and the problems once there.

'Pressing need'

Foreign Secretary William Hague has voiced concerns about the number of Britons trying to leave from Cairo airport, where a staff shortage was causing problems.

He said he has sent extra consular staff to the airport and stressed the welfare of British nationals was his top priority.

Mr Hague travelled to Brussels for talks about Egypt with his EU counterparts, and said they would "collectively underline the need for change".

He told BBC Radio 5 live that Britain was calling on the Egyptian leadership to "embrace change, to establish a broadly-based government to show that there will be a proper transition to free and fair elections".

The latest advice from the UK Foreign Office warns against all non-essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Luxor.

It also recommends that British nationals without a "pressing need" to be in Cairo, Alexandria or Suez should leave.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt told the BBC: "We do want people to take the opportunity if they are able to leave... but as yet the situation has not reached the stage where we would necessarily be considering chartering planes and getting larger numbers out."

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Media captionForeign Secretary William Hague: "We keep our travel advice under careful and constant review"

Arrangements are being made for the spouses and children of British embassy staff in Cairo to leave the country on ordinary commercial flights, the Foreign Office said.

The US embassy in Cairo is telling Americans to consider leaving the country as soon as possible and is organising evacuation flights for Monday.

Most of the 20,000 UK tourists in Egypt are in Red Sea resorts where the situation remains calm, according to the foreign secretary.

Sean Tipton, from travel body Abta, said UK tourists required to travel to Luxor - a popular start and end point for Nile cruises - were "being taken to the cruise very quickly and got out of the place very quickly".

In other travel news:

  • British Midland International (BMI) said flight times between Heathrow and Cairo on Monday are being changed to operate outside the curfew. Customers booked on flights to Cairo before Thursday can rebook
  • British Airways and Egyptair have altered their schedules because of the curfew.
  • Easyjet said it was operating a normal schedule to Egypt but allowing passengers to either rebook or cancel and receive vouchers for future travel
  • Tui, the parent company of Thomson and First Choice, said it had no customers in Cairo. It has cancelled outbound flights to Luxor and a Monday flight to Aswan. All excursions to Cairo and from Luxor were also scrapped, but flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam were not affected
  • Other travel companies have cancelled excursions from Red Sea resorts to Cairo and ancient Egyptian sites in Giza and Luxor

Clashes are reported to have left at least 100 people dead since rallies began, with thousands more injured.

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