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Originally published January 28, 2011 at 10:28 AM | Page modified January 28, 2011 at 2:19 PM

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U.S. issues travel alert for Egypt; some tours, cruises canceled

The U.S. State Department stopped short of issuing a formal travel warning but Friday issued a travel alert urging U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel.

Seattle Times travel writer

How safe is it to travel in Egypt?

The U.S. State Department stopped short of issuing a formal travel warning Friday, and instead issued a lower- level "travel alert" urging U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel in the country, as police and protesters clashed in Cairo and across Egypt.

Officials said they planned to post the information on travel.state.gov

The State Department took the action after several other foreign governments issued similar advisories.

The Dutch government advised against traveling to areas in Egypt including the capital Cairo, Alexandria and Suez because of large demonstrations and violence.

Canadian government officials issued a travel warning advising against non-essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Denmark warned its citizens against all unnecessary travel, with the exception of tourist resorts, while Sweden's foreign ministry recommended its citizens avoid Cairo.

While not issuing a travel warning — a more serious action that usually triggers automatic cancellations by cruise companies and tour operators and affects certain types of travel-insurance coverage — U.S. officials advised those in Egypt to remain in their hotels or residences until the situation stabilizes.

It urged U.S. citizens U.S. citizens to enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program at travelregistration.state.gov.

It's early in the season for Egypt tours and popular Nile River cruises, but those with plans may find their tour companies postponing trips and offering refunds.

Avalon Waterways, part of the Globus and Cosmos tour company, canceled two departures scheduled to leave from Cairo Saturday and next Tuesday, said Steve Born, vice president of marketing.

Avalon has dozens of cruises scheduled this year, he said, and the company is offering passengers either refunds or the chance to rebook at a later date. Another tour company, New Hampshire-based General Tours World Traveler, said it has suspended operations in Egypt through February 15.

Those with reservations to fly to Cairo soon should check with their airline. Delta Air Lines canceled its Friday flight to Cairo from New York's Kennedy Airport.

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The State Department issues travel alerts rather than warnings when it views a short-term risk to the security of U.S. citizens rather than a longer-term situation. But critics contend political and economic considerations sometimes come into play in deciding on whether to issue an alert or warning.

Thirty countries are currently the subject of State Department travel warnings, including places where many continue to travel such as Mexico, Israel, Kenya and Nepal.

Tunisia, which the U.S. placed under a travel warning almost immediately after political protests broke out there in mid-January, was removed from that list on Friday, and switched to "alert" status a few hours after the State Department issued its alert for Egypt.

"The unrest that had spread to Tunis and all major cities has diminished and public order has returned," the government said.

Updated information on travel and security in Egypt and other countries is available from the State Department by calling 888-407-4747, or by going to travel.state.gov.

Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701

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