Battle rages for Libya’s capital, airport bombed

A Member of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, prepares himself to go to the front line in Tripoli Libya April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara

By Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – A warplane attacked Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Monday as eastern forces advancing on Libya’s capital disregarded global appeals for a truce in the latest of a cycle of warfare since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011.

The fighting threatens to disrupt oil supplies, fuel migration to Europe and wreck U.N. plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in east and west.

Casualties are mounting.

The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar – a former general in Gaddafi’s army – said 19 of its soldiers had died in recent days as they closed in on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.

A spokesman for the Tripoli-based Health Ministry said fighting in the south of the capital had killed at least 25 people, including fighters and civilians, and wounded 80.

The United Nations said 2,800 people had been displaced by clashes and many more could flee, though some were trapped.

“The United Nations continues to call for a temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services and the voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded, from areas of conflict,” it said in a statement.

But that seemed to fall on deaf ears. Matiga airport, in an eastern suburb, said it was bombed and a resident confirmed the attack. No more details were immediately available.

Haftar’s LNA, which backs the eastern administration in Benghazi, took the oil-rich south of Libya earlier this year before advancing fast through largely unpopulated desert regions toward the coastal capital.

Seizing Tripoli, however, is a much bigger challenge for the LNA. It has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance along a road toward the center from a disused former international airport.

MACHINE GUNS ON PICKUPS

However, the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, 59, is seeking to block the LNA with the help of allied armed groups who have rushed to Tripoli from nearby Misrata port in pickup trucks fitted with machine guns.

A Reuters correspondent in the city center could hear gunfire in the distance southwards.

Serraj who comes from a wealthy business family, has run Tripoli since 2016 as part of a U.N.-brokered deal boycotted by Haftar. His Tripoli government has reported 11 deaths in the last few days, without saying on which side.

U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame met Serraj in his office in Tripoli on Monday to discuss “this critical and difficult juncture”, the world body’s Libya mission said.

The violence has jeopardized a U.N. plan for an April 14-16 conference to plan elections and end anarchy that has prevailed since the Western-backed toppling of Gaddafi eight years ago.

The U.N. refugee agency expressed anxiety about thousands caught in cross-fire and detention centers in conflict zones in a “rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation”.

As well as the United Nations, the European Union, United States and G7 bloc have all urged a ceasefire, a halt to Haftar’s advance and return to negotiations.

Haftar casts himself as a foe of extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, whose four-decade rule saw torture, disappearances and assassinations.

MIGRANTS AND MILITANTS

The LNA says it has 85,000 men, but this includes soldiers paid by the central government that it hopes to inherit. Its elite force, Saiqa (Lightning), numbers some 3,500, while Haftar’s sons also have well-equipped troops, LNA sources say.

Analysts say Haftar has swelled his ranks with Salafist fighters and tribesmen as well as Chadians and Sudanese from over the southern borders, claims dismissed by the LNA.

Since NATO-backed rebels ousted Gaddafi, Libya has been a transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara in hope of reaching Europe across the sea.

Islamic State staged some high profile attacks in Tripoli last year, but the militant group has largely retreated to the desert of southern Libya since the loss of its former stronghold in Sirte late in 2016.

France, which has close links to Haftar, said it had no prior warning of his push for Tripoli, a diplomatic source said.

France established close relations with Haftar under the Socialist government of Francois Hollande and his defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

When President Emmanuel Macron named Le Drian his foreign minister, Paris doubled down support to Haftar, in close alignment with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.

France’s stance has created tensions with Italy, which has sought a leading role to end the turmoil in its former colony that has played into the hands of militants and smugglers.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Additional reporting by Hani Amara in Tripoli, Ulf Laessing in Cairo, Tom Miles in Geneva, Robin Emmott in Luxembourg, Marine Pennetier in Paris; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)

TSA screeners win immunity from flier abuse claims: U.S. appeals court

FILE PHOTO: A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official's wears a TSA badge at Terminal 4 of JFK airport in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Fliers may have a tough time recovering damages for invasive screenings at U.S. airport security checkpoints, after a federal appeals court on Wednesday said screeners are immune from claims under a federal law governing assaults, false arrests and other abuses.

In a 2-1 vote, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners are shielded by government sovereign immunity from liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act because they do not function as “investigative or law enforcement officers.”

The majority said it was “sympathetic” to concerns that its decision would leave fliers with “very limited legal redress” for alleged mistreatment by aggressive or overzealous screeners, which add to the ordinary stresses of air travel.

“For most people, TSA screenings are an unavoidable feature of flying,” but it is “squarely in the realm” of Congress to expand liability for abuses, Circuit Judge Cheryl Ann Krause wrote.

The decision, the first on the issue by a federal appeals court, was a defeat for Nadine Pellegrino, a business consultant from Boca Raton, Florida.

She and her husband had sued for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution over a July 2006 altercation at Philadelphia International Airport.

Pellegrino on Wednesday said she was reviewing the decision. A lawyer who helped with her appeal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to court papers, Pellegrino had been randomly selected for additional screening at the Philadelphia airport before boarding a US Airways flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Pellegrino, then 57, objected to the invasiveness of the search, but conditions deteriorated and she was later jailed for about 18 hours, the papers show. Criminal charges were filed, and Pellegrino was acquitted at a March 2008 trial.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro dissented from Wednesday’s decision.

“By analogizing TSA searches to routine administrative inspections, my colleagues preclude victims of TSA abuses from obtaining any meaningful remedy for a variety of intentional tort claims,” he wrote.

Torts are civil wrongs that can result in damages.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney William McSwain in Philadelphia, whose office represented TSA officials, had no immediate comment.

The appeals court ruled 11 months after throwing out a First Amendment claim by an architect, Roger Vanderklok, who said he was arrested in retaliation for asking to file a complaint against an ill-tempered TSA supervisor.

The case is Pellegrino et al v U.S. Transportation Security Administration et al, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-3047.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

As Hodeidah battle grinds on, residents suffer lack of clean water, electricity

A displaced boy from Hodeidah city carries his brother who is affected by monoplegia, at a school where displaced people live, in Sanaa, Yemen June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

By Dahlia Nehme

DUBAI (Reuters) – Residents unable to flee Hodeidah face constant bombardment, lack of clean water and power cuts as an Arab coalition battles to capture Yemen’s main port from Iran-aligned Houthis.

“We hear loud explosions all the time,” Assem Mohammed, a 30-year-old pharmacist, said by telephone.

“We haven’t had water for three days.”

Mohammed, with his wife and six-month-old daughter, are among a dwindling number of residents who have remained in Hawak district, a neighborhood sandwiched between the airport, captured this week by the coalition, and the sea port, the latest target of the military offensive.

Whether through lack of funds or work or personal commitments, some families like Mohammed’s cannot escape.

Drivers transporting fleeing residents out of Hodeidah have more than doubled their fares since the battle began, while the hospital where Mohammed works has threatened employees with dismissal if they are absent for long periods.

“Electricity has also been cut in most of the city since three days, and in some neighborhoods for a week,” he said. He blamed the water shortage on damage to pipes that relief workers say has been caused by the Houthis digging trenches. Houthi officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Since 2015 Hodeidah residents have used privately-owned generators to produce electricity. But this month’s offensive has left them struggling to obtain the necessary diesel oil.

Temperatures during summer in Yemen soar to above 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) in the shade, which along with lack of clean water could help spread disease.

Coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a swift operation to capture the Red Sea port, without entering the city center to minimize civilian casualties and maintain a flow of essential goods.

But its maritime port is a principal entry point for Yemen’s relief supplies, and the United Nations fears heavy fighting will worsen what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid and an estimated 8.4 million believed to be on the verge of starvation.

A displaced woman from Hodeidah city carries her sick daughter at a school where displaced people live, in Sanaa, Yemen June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

A displaced woman from Hodeidah city carries her sick daughter at a school where displaced people live, in Sanaa, Yemen June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

“The level and degree of human suffering is heart-breaking,” Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen said on Thursday. “Of all the things we are worried about, cholera is top of the list.”

“It wouldn’t take much to start an unstoppable outbreak.”

Dozens of displaced families have been relocated to schools in the city, Mohammed Kassem, Hodeidah ICRC system manager, told Reuters as relief workers distributed food bags at one facility.

“We ran away only with the clothes we were wearing,” said one woman while waiting to receive her share.

The coalition says it wants to prevent the Houthis receiving weapons and generating cash from imports, eventually forcing them to start talks on handing over power to the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi.

UN CONCERNED

Grande warned against cholera spreading “with lightning speed” if the water system breaks down and nothing is done to immediately address the situation.

U.N. officials estimate that in a worst-case scenario the fighting could cost up to 250,000 lives, especially if a cholera epidemic occurs in the widely impoverished region.

The Arab coalition intervened in the war in 2015 to roll back Houthi control of Yemen’s main population centers and reinstate its internationally recognized government. Coalition forces retook much of the south before the war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, bogged down.

Tens of Hodeidah families have fled the fighting in Hodeidah for safety in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, while others have headed to Raymah and Wusab, also in Houthi-ruled areas inland.

“They told us there’s an organization where we can register as refugees over here, but God knows,” said Marwan al-Barah, one of those displaced from Hodeidah.

In a Sanaa school, Reuters TV footage showed men who had fled Hodeidah queuing to register their families as displaced, while women sat on the floor in classrooms as their bare-foot children and toddlers played nearby.

(Reporting by Dahlia Nehme; Editing by Sami Aboudi, William Maclean)

London City Airport shut after WW2 bomb found in Thames

Police officers stand by a cordon at the entrance to London City Airport, in London, Britain February 12, 2018

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – All flights to and from London’s City Airport were canceled on Monday after an unexploded World War Two bomb weighing half a tonne was found buried in silt in the River Thames.

Police said they expected the bomb at George V Dock in east London would be removed by early Tuesday, having set up a 200-metre exclusion zone after the ordnance was found during work at the airport on Sunday.

The Metropolitan Police said properties within the exclusion zone had been evacuated and a number of roads were cordoned off.

“The timing of removal is dependant on the tides, however, at this stage we estimate that the removal of the device from location will be completed by tomorrow morning,” police said in a statement, adding the shell was lying in a bed of dense silt.

London City Airport is the city’s fifth biggest and is popular with business travelers. It is London’s most central international airport and is close to major financial districts in the City of London and Canary Wharf.

The docklands area of London’s East End was a trading hub in the 1940s and was heavily bombed by German planes in World War Two. The airport was opened in 1987 as part of the broader regeneration of the area.

The airport told passengers not to travel there on Monday. Regional airline CityJet said its flights from the airport had been rescheduled to land and take off from London Southend airport, while Italy’s Alitalia [CAITLA.UL] said it would operate flights from London Stansted airport.

British Airways said it was trying to minimize disruption for passengers and said in a statement: “We are rebooking customers due to travel today onto alternative flights or offering refunds for those who no longer wish to travel.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout in London and Abinaya Vijayaraghavan in Bengaluru; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Malaysian prosecutors to call final witnesses in Kim Jong Nam murder trial

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, who is on trial for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader, is escorted as she arrives at the Shah Alam High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia January 22, 2018.

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian prosecutors in the trial of two women accused of the poison murder of the North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother will call their final witnesses in coming weeks as the defence zeroes in on the motive behind the sensational killing.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese, are charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX, a chemical poison banned by the United Nations, at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 13 last year.

The women have pleaded not guilty, saying they thought they were involved in some sort of prank for a reality TV show. Four North Koreans who were also charged in the killing have fled the country, prosecutors say.

The two women face the death penalty if convicted.

A total of 29 witnesses have testified for the prosecution in the trial, which resumed Monday after a two-month interval.

Another four witnesses are expected to testify this week, before police lead investigator Wan Azirul Nizam Che Wan Aziz, the prosecution’s star witness, retakes the stand, prosecutor Muhammad Iskandar Ahmad told the court on Monday.

“We hope to complete questioning of all witnesses by March,” he told reporters outside the court, adding that hearings have been scheduled until May.

The court suspended Wan Azirul’s testimony last year, following requests from defence lawyers to examine new evidence introduced midway through the trial.

Prosecutors have screened video recordings in court showing the women meeting the four fugitives at the airport prior to the attack on Kim Jong Nam. The video also shows one of the women appearing to smear something on Kim’s face.

Expert witnesses also testified that traces of VX were found on the clothing of both women, while Kim Jong Nam suffered seizures and showed symptoms of nerve agent poisoning before his death.

Defence lawyers have argued the killing was politically motivated, with many key suspects linked to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, suggesting the two women were merely unwitting pawns in the attack.

Gooi Soon Seng, Siti Aisyah’s lawyer, accused prosecutors of taking “a simplistic approach” to the case by failing to address the women’s motives.

“The prosecution’s whole case is based only on the CCTV recordings and the VX found on the two women – basically showing that their actions led to the victim’s death.

“But we still don’t know what motive these women had (for killing him),” he told reporters during a break in Monday’s hearing.

Airport videos showed three of the fugitives were driven to the murder site in a car bought by a North Korean embassy official.

The embassy’s second secretary and an official from Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline, were also seen at the airport helping the men flee.

North Korea has denied accusations by South Korean and U.S. officials that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime was behind the killing.

The trial resumes on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; editing by Praveen Menon and Nick Macfie)

More flights canceled after Atlanta airport’s day without power

More flights canceled after Atlanta airport's day without power

(Reuters) – Hundreds of flights were canceled into and out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday, a day after a paralyzing 11-hour power outage at the world’s busiest airport left passengers marooned on airplanes idling on the tarmac.

More than 400 planned flights to or from Atlanta were scrapped and another 86 were delayed, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

The airport lost power on Sunday morning after what Georgia Power <GPJA.N> believes was an equipment failure and subsequent fire in an underground electrical facility. Power for essential activities was restored by 11.45 p.m., the utility company said.

By then, miserable would-be passengers had posted pictures and videos that were widely shared online of their confinement inside planes stuck outside darkened terminals as boredom and hunger mounted. They were all disembarked safely by about 10 p.m., nine hours after the outage began. More than 1,100 flights were canceled on Sunday.

Officials at the airport, which is run by the city of Atlanta, sought to mollify customers on Sunday with thousands of free meals, water and parking spots as power began to return.

While some stranded travelers found rooms in hotels, city authorities also provided shelter at the Georgia International Convention Center.

Delta said customers whose travel was disrupted could make a one-time change to travel plans within certain guidelines. Other airlines also offered waivers for flight changes. Delta said its flight schedule in Atlanta was expected to return to normal by Monday afternoon.

More than 100 million trips and connections began or ended at the airport in 2015, according to Airports Council International.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Tourists fly out of Bali at last as wind blows volcanic ash away

Tourists fly out of Bali at last as wind blows volcanic ash away

By Sultan Anshori

DENPASAR, Indonesia (Reuters) – Airlines laid on extra flights to the Indonesian holiday island of Bali on Thursday to allow thousands of passengers stranded for days by an erupting volcano to fly home as a switch in wind direction blew the ash away.

But a plume of smoke and ash still rose above Mount Agung on Thursday and the volcano, whose crater glows red, continued to rumble.

Bali airport reopened on Wednesday after being closed on Monday.

“We are happy we can leave now,” American tourist David Strand said at the airport. “It’s been interesting to have the volcano active, but we certainly hope that it doesn’t cause any more damage to the people of Bali.”

The airport on neighbouring Lombok island was closed.

China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines sent planes to fetch more than 2,700 Chinese tourists from Bali, Xinhua news agency said.

Korean Air said it had sent a charter flight. Jetstar said it would fly 3,800 passengers on 10 scheduled flights and six relief flights back to Australia on Thursday. It also encouraged customers booked to fly to Bali up to Dec. 7 to look at alternative destinations.

From January to September, Bali received 4.5 million foreign tourists, nearly half of the 10.5 million arrivals in Indonesia.

Chinese have overtaken Australians to become the top visitors to Bali, representing around a quarter of arrivals on the island.

Losses in revenue could be more than $650 million since the volcano warning level was first raised in September, Indonesian Tourism Minister Arif Yahya estimated.

Agung looms over eastern Bali to a height of just over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). Its last major eruption in 1963 killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages.

Authorities are urging people living up to 10 km (6 miles) from the summit to move to emergency centres, but tens of thousands don’t want to leave their homes and livestock unattended.

The disaster mitigation agency said on Wednesday about 43,000 people had moved to shelters, but many were thought to be staying put as up to 100,000 people are estimated to live within the danger zone.

“We cannot predict whether it will be bigger than 1963, but … according to our evaluation the potential for a full-scale eruption is still high,” Devy Kamil Syahbana, an official at Indonesia’s centre for volcanology and geological disaster mitigation centre, told Reuters.

(For an interactive graphic on Mount Agung awakens click, http://tmsnrt.rs/2AayRVh)

(Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor and Wayan Sukarda in BALI and Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Scheduling glitch leaves thousands of American Air flights in December pilotless

Scheduling glitch leaves thousands of American Air flights in December pilotless

By Alana Wise

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A system scheduling error has left thousands of American Airlines <AAL.O> flights in December without scheduled pilots, the carrier’s pilots union said as the airline heads into one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

The Allied Pilots Association estimated that more than 15,000 flights from Dec. 17 to 31 were affected by a glitch in the system in which pilots bid for time off based on seniority.

“Basically there’s a crisis at American for manning the cockpits,” Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, said on Wednesday.

The system error was disclosed to pilots on Friday, the union said.

“We have reserve pilots to help cover flying in December, and we are paying pilots who pick up certain open trips 150 percent of their hourly rate – as much as we are allowed to pay them per the contract,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said on Wednesday.

In an email to employees, American had offered pilots the extra pay to work certain flights in the holiday period. But the union filed a grievance, saying that some restrictions on overtime pay violated the group’s contract.

The union said on Wednesday that management had still not reached out to discuss how best to resolve the shortage.

“I’m watching a ‘Grinch that stole Christmas’ thing happening. And we don’t want to see that happening for our passengers,” Tajer said.

American is hoping to avoid having to cancel flights, which, in addition to being a nuisance for travelers, could cost the carrier millions in lost revenue.

In the best-case scenario, labor costs for the quarter will likely climb as a result of pilots’ higher pay on those flights, just months after a substantial mid-contract pay increase for pilots and flight attendants spooked investors and temporarily sent the carrier’s shares tumbling.

Shares of American were mostly flat in Wednesday afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by G Crosse and Peter Cooney)

Indonesia reopens Bali airport as wind clears volcanic ash

Indonesia reopens Bali airport as wind clears volcanic ash

By Ayu Mandala and Slamet Kurniawan

DENPASAR, Indonesia (Reuters) – The airport on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali reopened on Wednesday as wind blew away ash spewed out by a volcano, giving airlines a window to get tourists out while authorities stepped up efforts to get thousands of villagers to move to safety.

Operations at the airport – the second-busiest in Indonesia – have been disrupted since the weekend when Mount Agung, in east Bali, began belching out huge clouds of smoke and ash, and authorities warned of an “imminent threat” of a major eruption.

“Bali’s international airport started operating normally,” air traffic control provider AirNav said in a statement, adding that operations resumed at 2:28 p.m. (0628 GMT).

The reopening of the airport, which is about 60 km (37 miles) away from Mount Agung, followed a downgrade in an aviation warning to one level below the most serious, with the arrival of more favorable winds.

“We really hope that we actually get a flight, maybe today or tomorrow, to get back home,” said tourist Nathan James, from the Australian city of Brisbane, waiting at the airport.

A large plume of white and grey ash and smoke hovered over Agung on Wednesday, after night-time rain partially obscured a fiery glow at its peak.

President Joko Widodo begged villagers living in a danger zone around the volcano to move to emergency centers.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho of the disaster mitigation agency said about 43,000 people had heeded advice to take shelter, but an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 people were living in the zone.

The decision to resume flights followed an emergency meeting at the airport, when authorities weighing up weather conditions, tests and data from AirNav and other groups.

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 later showed there were flights departing and arriving at the airport although its general manager said if the wind changed direction the airport could be closed again at short notice.

Agung looms over eastern Bali to a height of just over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). Its last major eruption in 1963 killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages.

Ash coated cars, roofs and roads to the southeast of the crater on Wednesday and children wore masks as they walked to school.

‘UNPREDICTABLE’

Singapore Airlines Ltd <SIAL.SI> said it would resume flights while Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd <QAN.AX> said it and budget arm Jetstar would run 16 flights to Australia on Thursday to ferry home 3,800 stranded customers.

Singapore Airlines and SilkAir were seeking approval to operate additional flights on Thursday, while budget offshoot Scoot said it would cease offering land and ferry transport to the city of Surabaya, on Java island, as it resumed flights to Bali.

Virgin Australia plans to operate up to four recovery flights to Denpasar on Thursday.

“As the volcanic activity remains unpredictable, these flights may be canceled at short notice,” it said on its website.

The head of the weather agency at Bali airport, Bambang Hargiyono, said winds had begun to blow from the north to south, carrying ash toward the neighboring island of Lombok.

He said the wind was expected to shift toward the southeast “for the next three days”, which should allow flights to operate.

As many as 430 domestic and international flights had been disrupted on Wednesday.

Authorities are urging villagers living up to 10 km (6 miles) from the volcano to move to emergency centers, but some are reluctant to leave homes and livestock.

“Those in the 8- to 10-km radius must truly take refuge for safety,” Widodo told reporters.

“There must not be any victims.”

Interactive graphic: ‘Mount Agung awakens’ click http://tmsnrt.rs/2AayRVh

Graphic: ‘Ring of fire’ click http://tmsnrt.rs/2AzR9jv

(Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in KARANGASEM Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE and Agustinus Beo Da Costa in JAKARTA; Writing by Fergus Jensen and Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Tourists, authorities feel the heat as Bali volcano keeps airport closed

Tourists, authorities feel the heat as Bali volcano keeps airport closed

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Slamet Kurniawan

KARANGASEM, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia kept the airport on Bali closed on Tuesday as ash from an erupting volcano swept the holiday island, leaving thousands of tourists stranded as authorities tried to persuade villagers living nearby to leave their homes.

A total of 443 flights, both domestic and international, were affected by the closure of the airport, about 60 km (37 miles) from Mount Agung which is spewing smoke and ash high into the sky.

“Aircraft flight channels are covered with volcanic ash,” the transport ministry said in a statement, citing aviation navigation authorities.

The airport – the second-biggest in Indonesia – will be closed at least until 7 a.m. on Wednesday (2300 GMT on Tuesday), the ministry said.

Frustration at the airport was starting to boil over, with an estimated 2,000 people attempting to get refunds and reschedule tickets.

“There are thousands of people stranded here at the airport,” said Nitin Sheth, a tourist from India. “They have to go to some other airport and they are trying to do that, but the government or authorities here are not helping.”

Others were more relaxed.

“No, there’s not a lot of information … very little. (But) it’s all right. We’re on holidays so it doesn’t matter. We don’t know what’s going to happen but we can get back to the bar and have another drink,” said Matthew Radix from Perth.

The airport operator said 201 international flights and 242 domestic ones had been hit.

Ten alternative airports had been prepared for airlines to divert inbound flights, including in neighboring provinces, the operator said, adding it was helping people make alternative bookings and helping stranded travelers.

The airport on Lombok island, to the east of Bali, had reopened, authorities said, as wind blew ash westward, towards the southern coast of Java island.

PRAYERS

Agung towers over eastern Bali to a height of just over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). Its last eruption in 1963 killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages.

On Tuesday, however, life went on largely as normal in surrounding villages, with residents offering prayers as the volcano sent huge billows of ash and smoke into the sky.

Some villagers who fled in September, when the alert was last raised to the highest level, have gone home despite government warnings.

On Monday, authorities said 100,000 residents living near the volcano had been ordered to get out of an 8-10 km (5-6 mile) exclusion zone, warning a larger eruption was “imminent”.

While the population in the area has been estimated at anywhere between 63,000 and 140,000, just over 29,000 people were registered at emergency centers, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the Disaster Mitigation Agency.

“Not all people in the danger zone are prepared to take refuge,” he said.

“There are still a lot of residents staying in their homes.”

Indonesia’s Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center has warned that an eruption of a size similar to that seen in 1963 could send rocks bigger than a fist flying a distance of up to 8 km (5 miles), and volcanic gas a distance of 10 km (6 miles) within three minutes.

Monitoring has shown the northeastern part of Agung’s peak had swollen in recent weeks “indicating there is fairly strong pressure toward the surface”, the center said.

For interactive package on Agung eruptions, click: http://tmsnrt.rs/2hYdHiq

For graphic on the Pacific Ring of Fire, click: http://tmsnrt.rs/2BjtH6l

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor, Slamet Kurniawan, Nyimas Laula and Reuters Bali stringer in BALI, and; Bernadette Christina Munthe, Cindy Silviana and Fransiska Nangoy in JAKARTA; Additional reporting by Angie Teo and Ed Davies; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)