Rabu, 16 Mac 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

The Star Online: World Updates


Airlines scramble to assist Japan exodus

Posted: 16 Mar 2011 06:45 AM PDT

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Airlines raced on Wednesday to clear Tokyo's airports of a backlog of passengers and help those wanting to leave as fears grew that quake-stricken Japan was losing control of a steadily growing nuclear crisis.

The disaster has transformed parts of Tokyo into a ghost town as people either stay indoors or leave.

France and Austria urged their citizens in Tokyo to leave the country or head to southern Japan.

The French embassy in Tokyo said it had asked Air France to mobilise planes for the evacuation of French nationals from Japan, and two were already on their way.

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, which represents 17 scheduled international airlines in the region, said domestic flights and air cargo services were now operating normally.

Germany's Lufthansa, however, said it was still diverting planes to Osaka and Nagoya.

Dutch airline KLM also said it was diverting to Osaka, instead of Tokyo, on flights to Japan on Wednesday, but that it would still fly out of Tokyo Narita to Amsterdam.

Private jet companies also said they were being inundated with requests for evacuation flights.

"It is now ramping up over last night because of the deteriorating situation. More people are worrying and looking to evacuate from Tokyo," Asia Jet Chief Executive Mike Walsh told Reuters.

"We are dealing with over 1,000 people wanting to evacuate from Tokyo this morning."

An aviation industry official in Asia said there had been a sharp drop in demand to Japan coupled with a rush to leave.

Companies from fashion retailer H&M to banks and technology firms, also said they were helping staff that want to leave the country or moving them away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

French asset management firm Amundi said it had evacuated the families of French nationals among its 230 staff in Japan, but French insurer Axa said it had no immediate plans to relocate its 8,000 people based in Japan.

Among companies that have already made staff contingency plans are SAP, Continental, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Cisco Systems.

LONG-TERM EFFECT?

While most airlines are right now coping with flight demands and safety advice on a daily basis, some experts are already trying to assess the long-term impact on Japan's travel and tourism industry.

"The airlines will be adjusting day by day to cope with the after-effects of the quake, but longer term, they will be evaluating the market to see what their operations should be before changing their schedules," said Alistair Rivers, Director of Industry Affairs at Innovata, a US company specialising in the management and distribution of flight databases.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the Japanese disaster would reduce premium air travel in March as Japan makes up 6-7 percent of the global market.

The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that travel and tourism would have made up 6.8 percent of Japan's 2011 GDP before the earthquake, although growth forecasts for 2011 were now in doubt.

(Additional reporting by Michael Shields, Maria Sheahan, Alison Leung, Greg Roumeliotis, Alexandre Boksenbaum, Anna Ringstrom, Mariko Katsumura and Emma Thomasson; Editing by Tim Hepher and Jon Loades-Carter)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Abbas says willing to go to Gaza to end split

Posted: 16 Mar 2011 06:45 AM PDT

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday he was ready to go to the Gaza Strip immediately to try to end divisions with the Hamas Islamist movement that controls the territory.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo September 5, 2009. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files)

In a speech in Gaza on Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh invited Abbas to the enclave, which the West Bank-based president has not visited since its seizure by the Islamist group in 2007, to launch a "comprehensive dialogue" on unity.

"I am ready to go to Gaza tomorrow in order to end the division," Abbas, without mentioning Haniyeh's invitation, said in an address to the Palestine Liberation Organisation's central council.

Abbas said he hoped to form "a government of independent national figures and to agree to parliamentary and presidential elections ... within six months or as soon as possible".

Welcoming what he called Abbas's response to Haniyeh's initiative, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said "special arrangements for the visit will be looked into".

In a statement, Hamas said: "Haniyeh is discussing with his advisers, members of his government, Hamas leaders and other factions a mechanism to welcome the President and end division".

The use of the term "president" in the statement appeared to mark a softening in Hamas's attitude towards Abbas.

Hamas contends Abbas's presidency is no longer legitimate because no Palestinian elections have been held since 2006. In his speech, Abbas also appeared to take a more conciliatory tone towards Hamas, saying he recognised his own term had expired -- and also that of parliament, where Hamas has a majority.

Over the past several years, Egypt has tried unsuccessfully to bridge gaps between Abbas's Fatah movement, which has pursued talks with Israel on Palestinian statehood, and Hamas, which has spurned Western calls to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of Palestinians flocked to a Gaza rally for unity in response to a call on Facebook by youth groups who said they were inspired by revolts against autocratic rule in the Arab world.

Witnesses said Hamas security men in plain clothes attacked demonstrators as the event wound down, injuring at least a dozen people. Hamas denied the allegation, saying the rally broke up following clashes between different youth groups.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Mohammed Assadi; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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