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Majority of Tunisia tourists home

The majority of British holidaymakers are believed to have returned from Tunisia after the Foreign Office changed its travel advice for the country, saying that a terrorist attack is "highly likely".

Tunisia's prime minister had said he "regrets" the UK Government's decision to fly its citizens home, as hundreds of tourists landed back on British soil.

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said the majority of tourists on package holidays - about 90% of the total number - would be home or on their way home.

Thomson and First Choice said all their customers are back home, and a Thomas Cook spokesman said all its customers have arrived back over the last few days - with 400 people returning on Friday, 700 yesterday and 900 today, he said.

Monarch Airlines said 250 people landed on its flights into Gatwick and Manchester today, after just 22 people were on the airline's flight into Gatwick yesterday.

Carol McCabe, from Glasgow, whose son Gary is due to arrive home this evening, said : "Can't wait to see him, such a tragedy what's happened. All so sad."

Kelly Belcher and her boyfriend Dean Webster, both from Essex, touched down yesterday.

The pair began their holiday last Sunday and were due to return home next Wednesday, and a sked if they were glad to land in the UK, Ms Belcher said that part of them was, adding: ''But we are gutted that we had to come back.''

The couple, both aged 32, flew out last Sunday for what was supposed to be a 10-day holiday, and Mr Webster said it was ''lovely'', adding: ''It's a shame, really.''

Asked if he thought it was unnecessary for them to return home, he said: ''I don't know. Obviously it's their judgment isn't it? Their call.

''I'm sure they know more than we do. But I mean, while we were there we didn't feel like we were in any real danger.''

He said there was ''lots of security'', particularly on the beaches, adding the security was ''a constant reminder'' of what happened just over a fortnight ago.

Mr Webster described it as ''eerily quiet''.

The couple, who were in Monastir, which is not far from Sousse, said hotel staff told them that this time last year they had 300 Britons there, while this week they had just 20.

Ms Belcher said they were ''in two minds'' about going to Tunisia but were reassured when the Foreign Office said it was still OK to go. She added: ''I think we'd rather be here and be safe.''

Tunisia's prime minister "regrets" the UK Government's decision to fly holidaymakers home, with his comments coming after Tunisia's interior ministry said counter-terrorism forces had killed five suspected extremists in a mountain gunfight.

Habib Essid told Sky News: "We regret the decision was taken to ask all the citizens to leave the country. We could have done something else that could help both sides, but we understand.

"Tunisia needs to be supported. It needs to be helped against what the terrorists are doing.

"The objective of the terrorist is that people from abroad won't feel safe in Tunisia."

The prime minister has previously said his government did everything in its power to protect British citizens and their interests.

It has carried out 7,000 security operations since a terrorist attack in Tunis in March, and Mr Essid said the government was working to remedy "shortcomings".

On Friday a gunfight erupted as a special Tunisian national guard unit tracked and chased eight suspected extremists near the town of El Ktar in the Gafsa region.

The Tunisian government declared a state of emergency following the attack which left 30 British tourists dead, and the UK's foreign office has changed its travel advice for the country on Thursday - saying that a terrorist attack is "highly likely".

Extra flights were laid on to evacuate up to 3,000 British package holidaymakers and 300 independent travellers who were believed to be in Tunisia.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond defended the repatriation of tourists, after protests from the north African country that the UK was playing into terrorists' hands.

Some Britons in Tunisia were angry that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had not changed its travel advice to warn against visiting the country immediately after the June 26 attack in Sousse, but others said they were disappointed to have to cut their holidays short.

Foreign tourism accounts for about 15% of Tunisian GDP.

Downing Street said that "substantial" work was needed to improve security for tourists, and it was likely to be "some time" before the advice against travel can be lifted.

It added the revised travel advice was based on information received over the previous 24 hours.

This included evolving intelligence about the threat to Britons in Tunisia; information from the Tunisian security authorities that people with possible links to the Sousse attack were still at large; and the results of a security assessment carried out by UK experts.


From Belfast Telegraph