SYDNEY, Jan 31 – Australia on Monday dispatched a commercial jet to evacuate its citizens from Egypt and urged Cairo to respect the "very legitimate desires" of its people as anti-government protests raged on.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Canberra had chartered a Boeing 747 to airlift Australians out of Egypt after angry demonstrations in which at least 125 people have died entered their seventh day.
"I have determined that we will make available an evacuation flight for Australians from Egypt. The flight will be a Qantas plane that the government has chartered," Gillard told reporters.
About 1,100 Australians are registered in Egypt, although given its popularity as a tourist destination the real number of Australian citizens currently there is believed to be in the thousands.
Gillard said many had made arrangements to leave after the government upped its threat level on Sunday to "do not travel".
"But there is significant pressure on commercial flights and some disruption and delay," she said.
"In these circumstances I have determined that the best course of action is to make this assisted evacuation flight available… at no cost to Australians who travel on it."
The warning, Australia\’s highest travel threat level, puts Egypt on a par with countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Due to depart Wednesday, the jet will ferry passengers to London or Frankfurt where it will be met by Australian foreign officials who would help arrange onward travel. Further flights would be chartered if necessary.
The move came as Gillard firmed her rhetoric to Cairo, urging that it respond to the "very legitimate desires of the Egyptian people for change."
"We understand the aspirations of the people of Egypt for freedom, for democracy… We have said that the government of Egypt should recognise these legitimate aspirations of the people of Egypt," said Gillard.
"The future government of Egypt is in the hands of the people of Egypt… The people of Egypt need to shape their future."
Thousands of protesters remain camped in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of angry demonstrations in the capital calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down which are entering their seventh day.