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Egypt uprising: Chaotic scenes at Cairo airport as thousands try to flee

The departure of foreign nationals from Cairo continued today amid scenes of disarray and confusion with more than 4,500 people stranded at the city's airport.

Passengers said airport staff were scarce, food supplies were dwindling, flight information was non-existent and some claimed police were even demanding bribes before allowing foreigners to board their planes.

At least 18 charter flights had left Cairo early this morning, ferrying more than 1,500 foreigners to European locations, an airport official said.

The United States sent in nine charter flights yesterday to Cairo and more were planned for today.

National carrier EgyptAir has been cancelling about 75% of its flights because it is unable to field the necessary crew amid the 17-hour emergency curfew imposed on the Egyptian capital.

Even having a ticket was no guarantee that tourists could get on a flight.

"People holding tickets had difficulties getting on the plane, because the airport in Cairo is pure chaos," Canadian tourist Tristin Hutton said after his plane landed at Germany's Frankfurt airport today.

"The terminals are full of panicking people. The ground staff is disappearing, and at the gate, just before entering, we all together had to collect 2,000 US dollars (£1,240) for a policeman at the door... He would not let us pass without paying," added the 44-year-old.

The US State Department said it has evacuated more than 1,200 Americans aboard government-chartered planes and expects to fly out roughly 1,400 more in the coming days. Flights yesterday carried US citizens from Cairo to Larnaca in Cyprus; Athens, Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey.

New York-based Pamela Huyser, who had travelled to Egypt for a conference, arrived in Larnaca late last night unnerved by the violence she witnessed from her ninth-floor hotel balcony in Cairo.

"You cannot even believe what we saw," she said. "We saw people looting, we saw gunfire, people shooting other people. A lot of people working in our hotel, they came out with sticks and knives and bats and they protected us from getting looted."

The first plane carrying Chinese citizens evacuated from Cairo was expected in Beijing today with 265 passengers, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The Air China flight was one of half a dozen China has sent to Egypt.

About 40 South Africans were expected back home today after South African diplomats went to Cairo Airport to meet with EgyptAir managers.

An Austrian military plane carrying German, French, Czech, British, Swiss, Chilean and Austrian nationals landed in Vienna this morning and a special Austrian Airlines flight arrived shortly after midnight.

Tens of thousands of European tourists flock to Egypt for winter holidays, and the big question tour operators and governments now face is what to do with tourists in other parts of Egypt like the Red Sea holiday resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheik.

The German government today extended its travel advice, warning its citizens against visiting any part of the country - including the Red Sea resorts.

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