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Egypt protests: Returning Britons tell of terror

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Media captionEgypt protests: Britons tell of terror they left behind

British nationals fleeing the political turmoil in Egypt have described scenes of terror on the streets of Cairo.

Some 161 Britons landed at Gatwick airport on a Foreign Office-chartered Boeing 757 at 2210 GMT on Thursday.

One of them, Shukria Ahmed-Nur, 16, told of men marauding with weapons including machetes and samurai swords.

There have been hundreds of casualties since violence erupted on Wednesday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protests are expected to continue.

'Really scary'

The departure of Flight AEU764 with the British nationals on board was delayed by disrupted air operations as thousands of opponents and supporters of President Hosni Mubarak clashed in the Egyptian capital.

After arriving at the West Sussex airport, Ms Ahmed-Nur said: "There were men with samurai swords, machetes and other weapons.

"They were outside our apartments, walking up and down the stairs, which was really scary.

"I was frightened because it was just me and my two brothers. We were just hoping we would get out alive. I feel ecstatic to be here."

Mother-of-two Jala Ibrahim, 33, from Fulham, west London, described the situation as like a "war zone".

"The country is in a really bad state at the moment," she said.

Ms Ibrahim returned with her two daughters, aged nine and five, but had to leave her Egyptian husband Osama behind.

'Gun battles'

Robert Mant, 34, who lives in Cairo with his 33-year-old Egyptian wife Kariman, was another Briton to depart the country.

He said: "There are gun battles between prisoners in the streets. I got hit by a rock. It's disgusting, it's a disgrace what is happening."

Stephanie Harkin, 25, from Luton, Bedfordshire, returned to the UK with her husband Amr El Hakim and their eight-month-old daughter.

Ms Harkin reported a similar problem with escaped prisoners and said her family slept with knives at their sides.

She said: "Across the road on the next compound there were reports that seven people had been killed and that neighbours had been attacked by thieves."

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) flight was arranged by charter specialist Air Partner which is the freight and passenger service provider for the UK's Department for International Development.

The firm has ferried about 2,800 people out of Egypt since Sunday to places such as the UK, Germany, France, Bahrain and Dubai.

The FCO plans another flight on Saturday for Britons who wish to leave the troubled north African country. The flights are in addition to existing commercial services back to the UK.

'Potential for violence'

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague described the violent clashes since Wednesday as "reprehensible".

Mr Hague said the investigation into the violence promised by the Egyptian authorities "must be full and open".

"I am extremely concerned about the potential for further violence. The world will be watching closely how the Egyptian authorities respond," he said.

"Their reputation will be severely damaged if we see violence at the levels we have seen recently."

He reiterated the UK government's view that an orderly transition should take place urgently.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his French, German, Italian and Spanish counterparts expressed their concern about the latest developments.

"We are watching with utmost concern the deteriorating situation in Egypt," they said in a joint statement.

"The Egyptian people must be able to exercise freely their right to peaceful assembly, and enjoy the full protection of the security forces."

Major demonstrations

The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez.

It says further major nationwide demonstrations will take place on Friday and a general strike has been called for Sunday.

The advice continues: "Previous mass demonstrations have been characterised by violence, including the use of tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

"All demonstrations and/or large crowds should be avoided. We advise all British nationals unable to leave to stay indoors wherever possible."

Journalists, including BBC staff, have been attacked while trying to report on the situation in Egypt.

President Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, has said he will step down - but only after presidential elections in September. Anti-Mubarak protesters want him to go immediately.

Unrest has left about 300 people dead across the country over the past 10 days, according to UN estimates.

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