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Ash cloud strands tourists in Egypt

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Thousands of tourists holidaying in Egypt were stranded at airports across the country on Monday as volcanic ash emanating from Iceland swept through European skies.

Egyptair cancelled 10 flights from Cairo to western and northern Europe on Monday, an airport official said. Flights to European airports that remained open were reinforced by using larger planes. Popular tourist spots like Sharm el-Sheikh were especially affected, with cancellations of half the flights from the Red Sea resort and 44 from Hurgada and Marsa Alam, the official news agency MENA reported.

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm estimated 17,000 tourists were stranded, a figure the tourism ministry was unable to confirm. “We don’t know how many there are. They are scattered everywhere. We have received figures from 4,000 to 40,000, so the figures are completely unreliable,” ministry spokeswoman Omayma el-Husseini told AFP.

The arrival of more tourists could exacerbate the problem of placing those already in Egypt, many of whom have been put up in hotels. “We arranged with the tourism ministry and hotels to prolong the stay of all the stranded tourists and the expenses will be dealt with by the insurance companies,” said Khaled el-Menawi, president of the Egyptian Chamber of Tourism Establishments.

“There is no housing problem because the tourists who were to replace them have not arrived,” he said. Some expatriate associations have asked their communities to take in their stranded compatriots. Around 12.5 million tourists visited the country in 2009, including more than two million from Russia.

Cairo, April 19, 2010 (AFP)