British tourists back from Tunisia, Foreign Office says

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Media captionThousands of British tourists are heading back to the UK to escape the violence in Tunisia

All British tourists booked on big tour operator holidays in Tunisia have been helped on to flights back to the UK, the Foreign Office has confirmed.

It is thought those remaining are mainly expats.

Some of the 1,000 expats known to be living in Tunisia have left following the fall of the country's president amid mass protests.

A "rapid deployment team" to assist embassy staff is en route to the capital Tunis.

'Rapidly changing'

The Foreign Office has advised against all non-essential travel to Tunisia, and outbound flights have been cancelled.

It urged any Britons in the country to register with its LOCATE system so consular officials could keep in touch and provide assistance.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said British people currently in Tunisia without a pressing need to be there should leave.

"Airspace is currently open over Tunisia, but this situation is moving rapidly and may change," he said.

"We urge any British nationals in Tunisia to observe the curfews in place and to stay indoors wherever possible."

There have been weeks of demonstrations in Tunisia over corruption, unemployment and high food prices.

The country's president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was forced from power on Friday and fled the country for Saudi Arabia.

Thomson and First Choice organised seven repatriation flights on Saturday - four to Manchester, one to Glasgow, one to Birmingham, one to Gatwick and one to East Midlands.

Both travel companies have now completed the repatriation of their package holiday customers, they said.

A Monarch plane left the UK on Sunday morning for Tunis to pick up about 200 people, bringing them back at Gatwick Airport.

British Airways is to make a decision later on whether it will operate flights to bring back stranded passengers from Tunis.

Thomas Cook, Thomson and First Choice have all cancelled flights to Tunisia on Sunday, and Thomson and First Choice have also cancelled those on Wednesday.

All departures beyond these dates are currently still going ahead, but customers are advised to monitor tour operators' websites in the coming days.

Tourists returning to UK airports have described scenes of violence in the north African country amid a state of emergency.

After landing at Birmingham Airport on Saturday, Johnny Davis, 23, a student at Birmingham University, said: "On Thursday evening there was a rolling protest with cars and about 500 people hanging out and beeping the horns.

"But last night it seemed to escalate and we heard what we think was gunfire throughout the city and that was going on all the way through to the early hours of the morning.

"When we woke up this morning we were told a state of emergency had been called and a curfew put in place and our airline recommended we leave."

John Plummer, 37, from Norwich, was on holiday with his wife and two daughters in Skanes, between Sousse and Monastir.

He saw smoke coming from buildings and a petrol station that had been looted.


However, some other passengers did not witness any violence and would happily have stayed.

Jo Coxon, 59, from Trowell, Nottingham, was staying in Port el Kantoaui and said: "There's troops on the streets and tanks but it's absolutely fine.

"I didn't want to come back."

Image caption Some passengers were met by tearful relatives when they landed

Another Briton, Sarah, from Manchester, travelled to Tunisia independently and is staying with friends in Sousse.

She told the BBC she was hoping to come home soon, but was more worried about a lack of food in the shops than the security situation.

"I am amongst the community and have no fear for my safety," she said. "The embassy has told me there is no problem to stay and said that they were not on high alert to evacuate.

"The thing that's really worrying me is the fact that the shops are all closed.

"So there's not a lot of places for you to go and get food. And when you do go and get food, it's packed to the gunnels and there's not a lot on the shelves."

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