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Egypt's tourism faces meltdown as security fears mount

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Foreign tourists enjoy the sunny weather in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, on January 3, 2012. Egypt's tourist industry is facing meltdown as foreign governments warn their citizens to stay away and told visitors already there to remain in their hotels. (AFP)

Egypt's tourist industry was facing meltdown on Friday as foreign governments warned their citizens to stay away and told visitors already there to remain in their hotels.

Fears of nationwide unrest in the wake of a violent crackdown by the military-backed interim government earlier this week have resulted in a string of countries issuing official advice against all but essential travel to Egypt.

That has dealt another blow to a sector that was already struggling with the fallout from the political instability that has ensued since the 2011 Arab Spring.

Russia, which has more than 50,000 of its nationals currently on holiday in Egypt and a similar number booked to go there in the coming months, advised travel agents to stop selling packages to the north African state.

Britain, which had previously excluded Egypt's popular Red Sea resorts from its travel advisory, on Friday told its nationals visiting the Red Sea resort of Hurghada to stay in their hotels, in line with advice received from the Egyptian police.

The warning followed a death in Hurghada on Wednesday.

"Hurghada police advised tourists to remain in hotel grounds," a statement from the Foreign Office said. "We advise you to follow their advice".

"You are strongly advised to avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings.

"If you become aware of any nearby protests, leave the area immediately. Do not attempt to cross road blocks erected by the security forces or protesters."

British travel association ABTA estimates that there are currently around 40,000 Britons in Red Sea resorts such as Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh, which is an eight-hour drive from Cairo.

Tour operator Thomas Cook said it had cancelled excursions from the Red Sea resorts to Cairo, Luxor, Moses Mountain and Saint Catherine's monastery.

But a spokeswoman added: "Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada are fully operational and holidaymakers are continuing to enjoy these popular resorts."

Italy, which has an estimated 19,000 citizens in Egypt, advised them to remain in hotels and holiday resorts.

"We strongly advise you to avoid excursions outside of tourist areas, particularly in cities," the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

The ministry also said the security situation in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula was "very precarious" and advised against any travel there.

"There is a risk of terrorist attacks. There should be particular caution in the region bordering the Gaza Strip, in Cairo and Alexandria," it said.

"Great prudence is recommended in crowded areas".

The federation of Italian tour operators Fiavet said earlier this week that there had been an 80-percent drop in the number of Italians visiting Egypt this year.

The warnings issued by Britain and Italy were mirrored in France, Germany and Spain.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated that a possible evacuation of French nationals was being kept under review. "We will see how the situation evolves," he said, adding that, in the meantime, citizens in Egypt were "very strongly advised to stay at home."