Govt helping NZers leave Egypt

New Zealand's ambassador in Cairo has defended the embassy's response to its citizens stranded in Egypt as the upheaval rages on.

More than 100 people have been killed across Egypt and thousands injured as protesters continue to call on President Hosni Mubarak to resign, dragging the unrest into a seventh day.

A number of countries have sent planes to Cairo to evacuate their citizen, including Australia which yesterday dispatched a chartered Qantas 747, but New Zealand has yet to echo such moves.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that dispatching an Air Force 757 was an option, although it was not under consideration at this point.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said there were 295 New Zealanders registered in Egypt, and there were likely to be others who had not registered.

It said Cairo airport was open, and advised New Zealanders in Egypt to leave if it was safe to do so.

But some New Zealanders have been unable to leave as scheduled flights are cancelled or delayed, with one describing the situation at the airport as "chaos".

New Plymouth lawyer Murray Cochrane said his 32-year-old son Craig, who now lives in Britain, was finally able to leave Egypt this morning on a chartered flight reserved for British citizens, after an earlier scheduled flight was cancelled.

Mr Cochrane said it was "great news" that his son had been able to leave. But he had earlier said he would have liked the Government to indicate it could assist people who had difficulty getting flights.

Mr Key said yesterday that the Government was working on the cases of people who had been bumped off flights and was talking to commercial airlines.

"And clearly, our close friends and allies are there in the region, the UK and the United States, and if necessary we will pick up the phone and try and get New Zealanders up the queue."

The response of the New Zealand embassy in Cairo has also come under fire, with an expatriate couple saying they were dismayed by the embassy's lack of assistance.

Kyle and Caroline Brewerton, who moved from Auckland about six months ago, said embassy staff told them to "give it a few days and it'll settle down", the Dominion Post reported.

Mr Brewerton said while other embassies were organising evacuations, "you just get nothing out of ours".

"What happens if it doesn't all blow over...Do we just hope for the best? Or do we have to see a couple of New Zealanders get hurt before anything happens?

"It would be good to see a bit of action."

New Zealand's ambassador in Cairo, Rene Wilson, said while some countries had arranged flights for their citizens, a number had not.

"I think there's a very close consideration being given to this at the moment, and developments are being monitored very closely," Mr Wilson told Radio New Zealand.

Only about nine New Zealanders were at the airport earlier today and several were able to get out on commercial flights, he said.

"Only a few are trying to leave through the airport at present. Of course if circumstances change and the political situation deteriorates considerably, then I would expect the numbers of those wishing to leave to increase rapidly. "So we are monitoring very closely the situation and there is a lot of work being done on this at the moment in Wellington."

Mr Wilson warned that the situation in Cairo could deteriorate tomorrow.

"Things are relatively quiet today, but that's just today. Tomorrow there's a very big demonstration and we're uncertain about what the condition will be in the city tomorrow. The airport itself was pretty good today."

Asked if there was a need to move quickly as the demonstration loomed, Mr Wilson said "a lot of attention" was being given to the matter in Wellington.

However, his advice to New Zealanders remained the same.

"Right now the commercial flights are still flying ... the best advice we can give is take those commercial options because that's the quickest way to leave if you're choosing to do that."

Responding to the Brewertons' criticisms, Mr Wilson said embassy staff had been in touch with the family extensively and had helped them work out the options before them.

Embassy staff were facing the difficulty of not having an office to work out of, as well as communication issues as network access remained sporadic.

The New Zealand embassy was not in use as the ground floor was damaged in protests over the weekend and was without power. Staff were working out of the ambassador's residence.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully said this morning that the Government was looking into chartering a plane and was discussing options with other countries, but repeated the Government's preference for people to take scheduled flights as a first option.

- NZPA

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