Lebanon: Asia-Pacific citizens seeking to leave

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July 17, 2006 08:26
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Officials across the Asia-Pacific region were working Monday to find an evacuation route for their citizens trapped in Lebanon. Australia was in talks with Israel to determine the safest option out of Lebanon, while New Zealand, Japan and the Philippines were also working to help their citizens flee the troubled Middle Eastern nation. Up to 5,000 Australian travelers have registered with the Australian Embassy in Lebanon, and about 25,000 dual Australian-Lebanese citizens are believed to be living there, local media have reported. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government was considering hiring buses to take Australians to neighboring Syria or chartering a boat to Cyprus, but that it may be safer for many people to stay put for the short term. "We will get people out ... as quickly as we can, but we can't be taking them into greater danger," Downer told reporters Monday. "People have to weigh up the fact that ... there are no easy and very safe options available to them." Philippine officials were scrambling Monday to evacuate around 30,000 workers living in Lebanon. The Philippine Embassy established an evacuation center at a Roman Catholic church north of Beirut, but the government had not yet made resources available for their removal, according to Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Gilbert Asuque. A Filipino priest at the church told Manila Radio DZXL that the first batch of 120 evacuees had arrived and were "packed like sardines." Meanwhile, Japan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Monday ordering all of its citizens in the southern Lebanese provinces of Chouf and Bekka to evacuate immediately. About 70 Japanese are registered as long-term residents in Lebanon, Kyodo News agency reported. New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said he was working with Britain and France to evacuate around 30 nationals known to be in Lebanon. Peters said the Commonwealth Office in London had set up a crisis center that was looking at evacuating various nationals, including New Zealanders. New Zealand has no diplomatic post in Lebanon.

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