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State Department charters flights to evacuate Americans

Protests against President Hosni Mubarak continued in Cairo yesterday, as the US refused to publicly take sides in the revolt. Protests against President Hosni Mubarak continued in Cairo yesterday, as the US refused to publicly take sides in the revolt. (Miguel Medina/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Lolita C. Baldor
Associated Press / January 31, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The State Department is prepared to evacuate thousands of US citizens from Egypt on chartered planes starting today, but it is relying largely on friends and families in the United States to relay that information to stranded Americans.

Assistant Secretary of State Janice Jacobs told reporters yesterday that she expects it will take several flights over the coming days to handle the number of people who want to leave Egypt.

Jacobs acknowledged that Internet interruptions in Egypt are making it difficult for Americans there to get information about the evacuations. But she said they have been able to get information from people in the United States who do have access to State Department and embassy websites.

The charters will begin from Cairo and fly to Europe. Jacobs said the department is looking at Athens, Istanbul, and Cyprus as destinations.

Jacobs, who is in charge of consular affairs, said the United States will have enough flights to take out all American citizens and dependents who want to leave. And the United States may also send charter planes to other cities in Egypt, such as Luxor. She said Americans with tickets on commercial airlines should first contact those carriers.

According to the State Department, there are about 52,000 Americans registered with the embassy in Cairo. Officials noted, however, that many people don’t register, and some Americans in Egypt may not want to leave.

The US government has appealed for an orderly transition to lasting democracy in Egypt as escalating violence there threatened Middle East stability and put President Obama in a diplomatic bind.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton refused to speculate yesterday on the future of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, or to call for his resignation.

She warned against a takeover resembling the one in Iran, with a “small group that doesn’t represent the full diversity of Egyptian society’’ seizing control and imposing its ideological beliefs.

Clinton’s comments came as the Obama administration tried to get a handle on the fast-moving situation in Egypt, a crucial US ally in the long quest for peace in the Middle East. Left largely unsaid is the growing fear that a government hostile to the United States could gain control of such a large and important Arab nation.

Clinton, on the Sunday morning TV news shows, stressed that Egypt’s future lies in the hands of its people, hewing to the administration line of refusing to take sides publicly in the upheaval.

Clinton made clear there are no discussions about cutting off aid to Egypt, which receives about $1.5 billion in annual assistance from the United States to help modernize its armed forces and strengthen security.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, demurred when asked if the United States should abandon support of Mubarak. He said the US government has to “be on the right side of history’’ and do a better job of arguing for human rights.

Americans seeking information on charter flights from Egypt should monitor the State Department and embassy websites or send an e-mail to egyptemergencyusc@state.gov. They can also call 1-888-407-4747 from within the United States and Canada.

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