World Travel Watch: Weather Delays Across Europe, Elections in Sri Lanka and More
World Travel Watch: Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news
12.23.09 | 11:23 AM ET
World Travel Watch is a weekly report designed to help you make informed judgments about travel. Conditions can change overnight, so always make your own inquiries before you leave home. The U.S. State Department and embassies or consulates are good places to start.
Europe: Heavy Snow, Cold Disrupt Travel Across Continent, Eurostar to Resume Normal Schedule Dec. 28
Severe winter weather before Christmas disrupted travel throughout Europe, causing flight delays and cancellations in the UK, Germany and Italy, and shutting down the Eurostar “Chunnel” train service between London and Paris for three days. Twenty-five-hundred passengers were stranded without food, water or air conditioning for 16 hours. The breakdown was believed to have been caused by light powdery snow in France that got sucked into the engines, then melted when the trains entered the much warmer tunnel and shorted out the electrical power systems. Modified trains were running by Dec. 22 and Eurostar expects service to return to normal by Dec. 28.
Italy: Flooding in Venice
An unusually high tide that peaked at 56.6 inches above average flooded some 60 percent of Venice’s streets and piazzas Wednesday morning, forcing residents and visitors to slosh through knee-deep waters or tread improvised boardwalks to navigate St. Mark’s Square and other landmarks. The tide receded during the day but more flooding was expected in the coming days. The high tide was about six inches lower than last year’s record 63 inches, which brought the worst flooding in Venice in more than 20 years.
Guatemala: Gangs Extort, Kill Bus Drivers
Criminal gangs are terrorizing Guatemala City’s bus network, the only viable public transit in the country, through extortion of bus drivers. If the drivers don’t pay protection money, the gangs kill them. This year alone they have killed 170 drivers, while the cost of protection is about two-thirds of the drivers’ salaries, but they have no choice because the risks are too great. The gangs use teenagers for the killings because if caught they receive lesser sentences. Meanwhile, passengers traveling around the capital city or from it out into the countryside face the risk of stray bullets if riding in a targeted vehicle.
India: Goa a Terrorist Target? Israel Drops Travel Warning
Goa’s home minister told the state legislature that Goa is a target for a major terrorist attack. He did not elaborate, saying only that intelligence reports suggested that Pakistan-based terrorist groups have a strong desire to stage “spectacular violence” in Goa. The coastal state on the Indian Ocean is a popular destination for British, Israeli and U.S. tourists, especially during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season, because of its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful beaches and all-night outdoor parties. The state has been free of terrorism but not free of crime, with several sexual assaults in the past few years. Such crimes prompted the state government to take steps to set up a special tourist security force called the Tourist Security Organization to increase safety for visitors. At this point the force is still a proposal before the legislature. In other news, Israel canceled its three-month-old warning that Pakistani militants were targeting Jewish sites in India for attacks similar to the November 2008 rampage in Mumbai, noting that the “terrorist plans were foiled.”
Indonesia: Terrorist Cells Remain Active
A counterterrorism official said Dec. 21 that terrorist cells remain active in Indonesia despite successes in the battle against home-grown terrorists, including the killing of Noordin Top, the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings and the July 17 attacks on Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. The official said the cells continue to recruit members and could find fertile ground for more in conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims in places such as Poso in Central Sulawesi and Ambon in Maluku. One approach the police are using with some success is “de-radicalization,” talking terrorist suspects out of their radical orientations. Police claim to have 113 former terrorists now on their payroll.
Sri Lanka: Campaign for Jan. 26 Presidential Election Could See Demonstrations
Sri Lanka will hold a presidential election Jan. 26. In years past, political campaigns have produced demonstrations and small-scale violence. The U.S. Embassy in Colombo urges travelers to avoid political rallies, public gatherings and demonstrations, which can start with little or no notice. Police have used tear gas and force to break up unruly gatherings.