80,000 Russians stranded in Egypt after flights grounded

President Vladimir Putin ordered all flights from Egypt to Russia suspended. Russians will fly home via Turkey, said officials Saturday.

(AP Photo/Vinciane Jacquet)
British Embassy staff talk with a tourist who is waiting in the departure hall to be evacuated from Sharm el-Sheikh airport, south Sinai, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. Egyptian police carried out detailed security checks on Friday at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, the resort from where the doomed Russian plane took off last weekend, after U.K. officials confirmed that flights will start bringing stranded British tourists home from the Sinai Peninsula.

Around 80,000 Russians are stranded in Egypt after the Kremlin grounded all flights to the country following the crash of a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said on Saturday.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the flight suspension on Friday, a possible sign that Russia is attaching more credence to the theory that a bomb brought down the Russian passenger jet in Egypt a week ago, killing all 224 people on board.

"Today the number of tourists in Egypt was clarified, it is around 80,000," RIA news agency quoted Dvorkovich as saying.

"The Egyptian military has taken control of the operation to put passengers on flights," he added.

Russia will be wanting to avoid the chaotic scenes endured by thousands of British holidaymakers stuck in Red Sea resorts after Egypt slashed the number of flights it would allow to take them home.

Oleg Safonov, head of Russian state tourism agency Rostourism, said 1,200 Russian tourists had returned home and future flights would be leaving without hold luggage.

"A planned process to evacuate tourists will be executed," Russian news agencies quoted Safonov as saying. "Planes will arrive empty and be boarded by those tourists who should return home on that date."

The Russian Travel Industry Union said nearly all Russian tourists due to visit Egypt in the coming days had agreed to fly to Turkey instead.

"In the near future, flights which should have flown to Egypt are being redirected to Antalya," the Interfax news agency quoted union 

spokeswoman Irina Turina as saying. "Practically all tourists have agreed with this."

Meanwhile, Britain hopes to return all of its stranded tourists from Sharm al-Sheikh within 10 days, a British official at the Egyptian Red Sea resort told Reuters on Saturday.

The British government is increasing the number of flights and will return about 2,000 nationals on Saturday on nine planes, the official added.

Thousands of British tourists were left stranded when Britain halted flights to and from Sharm al-Sheikh after a Russian plane crashed shortly after taking off from the resort one week ago, killing all 224 people on board.

Western officials have said a bomb may have brought down the airliner and Islamic State militants battling security forces in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula have claimed responsibility.

Egypt was checking video footage at the airport on Saturday for any suspicious activity linked to the plane crash in Sinai, officials said, the clearest sign yet that they believe it may have been targeted by militants.

Attempts to fly home thousands of British holidaymakers on Friday hit trouble when Egypt restricted the number of flights, citing capacity limits at Sharm al-Sheikh airport and British airliners' refusal to take passenger luggage in the hold.

The official said British passengers would check in their luggage as usual but it would be transported separately on a different plane. Holidaymakers should have their luggage back within five to seven days.

"We've got good cooperation now which will allow us to get people home as soon as possible," John Casson, Britain's ambassador to Egypt, told BBC television.

"We have measures in place now which allow us to say it's safe to fly home ... We'll do it in a way that's convenient and as quick as possible," he said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden in London; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Janet Lawrence)

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