Tuesday 24 April 2018

Irish flight among last to land in Istanbul before lockdown as tourists warned off

People stand on a Turkish army tank at Ataturk airport in Istanbul Photo: Reuters
People stand on a Turkish army tank at Ataturk airport in Istanbul Photo: Reuters

Robin Schiller and Gareth Morgan

Irish people planning to travel to Turkey have been told to postpone the trip until the full ramifications of the military coup become clear.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs last night said it was revising its travel guidance in light of yesterday's events.

Turkish army tanks in Istanbul. Photo: Defne Karadeniz/Getty Images
Turkish army tanks in Istanbul. Photo: Defne Karadeniz/Getty Images

"The situation is unclear, and Irish citizens considering travel to Turkey are advised to delay travel until the situation becomes clearer," said a statement released after news emerged of the military coup.

"We are advising Irish citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Turkey at this time," it added.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs and our embassy in Ankara are monitoring the evolving situation in Ankara and Istanbul where a heightened security presence and some incidents of violence are reported."

Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport was in lockdown last night with tanks visible on pictures broadcast from outside the terminal building.

People take to the street in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images
People take to the street in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A flight from Dublin Airport was among the last to land in Instanbul before the closure.

The Turkish Airlines service touched down just after 11pm local time, and shortly afterwards all flights were suspended at the airport.

Late last night it was unclear whether the passengers on board the plane from Dublin remained inside the terminal building, or whether they had left the area.

Turkey's reputation as a popular tourism hotspot has already suffered hugely due to the growing threat of terrorism as well as instability in neighbouring Syria.

But it remains hugely popular as some 100,000 Irish people visited Turkey last year - although that figure was expected to drop this year due to increased concerns about tourist safety.

The Mediterranean and Aegean resorts are most popular with holidaymakers and are removed from the worst blackspots for violence - the Syrian border is a 1,200km drive from Kusadasi for example.


However, just last month two suicide bombers blew themselves up at Ataturk International Airport, killing 41 people and injuring scores more.

And five Irish citizens - three of them children - were caught up in an Islamic State (IS) bomb attack in Istanbul last March, which claimed four lives.

Fewer than 1,000 Irish citizens live in Turkey full time, and most of them would be based in Istanbul or holiday resorts.

Tour operator Sunway Holidays sends about 20,000 Irish visitors to Turkey every year, and recently acknowledged that bookings to the country were down in light of the global terrorist threat.

However, it stressed that it continued to enjoy strong repeat custom from tourists who love what Turkey has to offer.

The major concern for tourists has been the threat of terrorism, and news of the military coup will shock many holidaymakers in the country who are faced with great uncertainty over the coming days, and potential difficulty in returning home. The official advice issued to Irish travellers in general states that "the threat from terrorism in Turkey remains high".

"We strongly advise against travelling to the border areas between Turkey and Syria in light of the current instability in the region, in particular the provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Mardin.

"The Turkish military have operations along the Turkish border with Iraq and you are strongly advised against all travel to the border provinces of Hakkari and Sirnak.

"In addition, we would recommend against travel to the Siirt, Tunceli and Diyarbakir provinces.

"While areas popular with Irish travellers are located at a substantial distance from these regions, vigilance is required in tourist areas such as Taksim Square in Istanbul and locations close to police and military installations, which may be targets for terrorist attacks.

"Irish citizens in Turkey or those intending to travel should exercise vigilance, avoid large public gatherings and all demonstrations and follow the instructions and advice of the local authorities.

"We also urge caution if using public transport, in particular the metro systems in Istanbul and Ankara.

"Terrorist attacks are, by their nature, random and indiscriminate and cannot be predicted in advance.

" You are advised to remain vigilant, particularly in public places that are frequented by foreigners."

Irish Independent

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