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War threat sees Swiss cancel Middle East flights

Swiss has announced plans to cut flights to the Middle East Keystone Archive

As the threat of war mounts, Switzerland's national airline, Swiss, has announced plans to cut dozens of flights to the Middle East.

Citing security concerns, Swiss said it would halt seven weekly flights to Cairo from Zurich, starting on Thursday.

The airline is also considering cancellations to nine other destinations in the region. “The situation is very alarming,” said Swiss spokesman Claude Donzel on Tuesday.

Other airlines around the world have made similar decisions. The cuts come amid growing unease in Switzerland about the consequences of a war in Iraq.

On Tuesday, more than 3,000 pupils in the Valais region staged protests against a war, observing a minute’s silence, and burning US and British flags. One thousand pupils took to the streets of Winterthur.

The protests, which are expected to be repeated in the coming days, follow massive public protests across the country earlier this month.

War preparations

The Swiss government has also stepped up preparations ahead of a conflict. Security has been increased around Switzerland’s nuclear power plants and several foreign embassies.

The energy ministry said the measure was designed to prevent possible terrorist attacks.

Switzerland also withdrew its last remaining Baghdad diplomats, who flew to Jordan on Tuesday.

According to the Swiss foreign ministry, only ten Swiss citizens remain in Iraq, among them two humanitarian workers, a monk, and several dual citizens.

Meanwhile the United States has also taken action in Switzerland, closing its consulate in Geneva for security reasons.

Refugees to stay

With the travel window to and from Iraq rapidly closing, the Swiss moved on Tuesday to guarantee temporary residency to some 500 Iraqis currently in Switzerland.

Swiss Red Cross is also intensifying its preparations to help people displaced by a conflict.

The organisation is working with the Jordanian and Turkish Red Crescent societies to build a refugee centre near the Iraqi border. Blankets, mattresses and kitchen equipment have already been dispatched to the region.

The Swiss Red Cross has also moved to provide another SFr1 million ($725,000) for emergency humanitarian relief.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR