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Australians stranded while Cairo vigilantes target officials

The Age

Saturday February 5, 2011

BY KIRSTY NEEDHAM With PAOLA TOTARO

ELEVEN Australians have been unable to leave Egypt because of the intervention of local authorities.An evacuation flight was delayed by almost two hours as Egyptian authorities stopped two young men from boarding because they were Australian-Egyptian dual nationals of military service age.A DFAT spokeswoman said the government was making representations on their behalf and would assist their families. "Dual nationals are treated as Egyptians and authorities can require an exemption certificate before allowing male dual nationals to leave Egypt," she said.Another person was stopped from leaving by authorities because of an invalid visa.Meanwhile, eight Australian embassy officials were stopped by pro-Mubarak vigilantes yesterday and taken away by Egyptian police as they tried to reach Cairo Airport. DFAT confirmed that Australian ambassador Stephanie Shwabsky protested to the military that the situation was unacceptable. The military then took custody of the Australian officials and they were released several hours later.The escalating danger on the streets has again stopped a group of 27 Australians, holed up with officials in the downtown Conrad Hotel, from boarding the second evacuation flight.The Qantas flight, already delayed a day by mechanical problems, flew out of Cairo yesterday with 92 Australians on board. It carried a total of 103 passengers less than a quarter of the jumbo's capacity. Arriving in Frankfurt last night, passenger Natalie Watkins, 32, said the situation became terrifying when protestors began to clash with pro-Mubarak men. Ms Watkins, from Melbourne, has taught high school in Cairo for 10 years. "I knew I had to get out then . . . everything is in my house but my life is more important."Amid the targeting of foreign media by pro-Mubarak gangs, journalists from the ABC have been attacked, a Nine reporter and crew pulled from a taxi by police and rioters, and a newspaper reporter had his room raided. Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd said he had appealed to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit about safety concerns and told the Egyptian government "we will need their support" to get stranded Australians to the airport.DFAT said 56 Australians had left Egypt on five Canadian chartered flights.

© 2011 The Age

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