Russian flights to Egypt suspended after crash
Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt on Friday after a recommendation by his chief of intelligence for a halt until the cause of last week's crash of a passenger jet in the Sinai Peninsula is determined, as an official said pieces of wreckage from the plane had been brought to Moscow to test for possible traces of explosives.
The suspension came after several days of statements by British and American officials that it was possible a bomb on board had brought down the Russia carrier Metrojet's Airbus A321-200, which crashed 23 minutes after takeoff from the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
Russian and Egyptian officials had bristled at the statements, saying it was too soon to tell the cause.
The suspension, covering all of Egypt, is even more sweeping than that imposed by Britain, which had halted flights to Sharm el-Sheikh only.
"I think it will be reasonable to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt until we determine the real reasons of what happened," intelligence chief Alexander Bortnikov Bortnikov said in televised comments. "It concerns tourist flights most of all."
Russia's emergency situations minister, Vladimir Puchkov, said wreckage from the plane have been brought to Moscow for tests.
"These are necessary samples from all parts where traces of explosives could be. All of these samples have been delivered to Moscow, and we are studying them," Puchkov said.
Tempers run high
Britain's efforts, meanwhile, to bring home hundreds of British tourists stranded at Sharm el-Sheikh airport by its suspension of flights were snarled by new security measures put in place for its planes, including a ban of checking in luggage.
Tempers ran high among the crowds of tourists in the airport departure lounge.
When UK Ambassador John Casson appeared to reassure them, one irate British tourist who had waited at the airport since early morning hours, harangued him with angry shouts of: "When are we going home?"
Britain had grounded all flights to and from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, saying there was a "significant possibility" the airliner was downed by a bomb.
London approved the resumption of flights starting Friday, though passengers were only allowed to take carry-on bags with them.
But Egypt prevented some flights from coming to pick up the tourists because of the pile-up of baggage.
Egypt's civil aviation minister, Hossam Kamal, said there would be eight flights in all to the UK on Friday, instead of the 29 planned earlier.
He said the British airlines are flying without passengers' luggage, while Sharm el-Sheikh airport's storage can hold no more than 120 tons of luggage left behind.
"This big volume will affect the smooth operation of the rest of the domestic and international flights," said Kamal, adding that a cargo plane would carry bags separately for each flight.
British carrier EasyJet had been due to operate 10 flights from the Red Sea resort but said eight would not be able to fly because Egypt had suspended them. "We are working with the UK government at the highest level on a solution," it said in a statement.
Two other carriers, Monarch and British Airways, said they still planned to operate flights back from Sinai on Friday.
The development is likely to hinder Britain's attempts to smoothly bring back the estimated 20,000 UK nationals in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said earlier Friday that "most of the people who were expecting to be home by tonight will be home by tonight."
Egypt — which stands to lose millions of dollars from its vital tourism industry — maintains there is nothing wrong with the Sharm el-Sheikh airport, which each year welcomes thousands of vacationers to the resort beside the crystal-clear Red Sea.