Britons, Danes urged to leave Tunisia over attack fears

Tunis (AFP) - Denmark followed Britain's example on Friday in urging its nationals to cut short their holidays in Tunisia after London warned the country was still unsafe after last month's beach massacre.

Ireland also called on its far lower number of citizens there to leave, while Paris warned French visitors and residents to exercise caution.

Tunisia's prime minister said he would telephone British counterpart David Cameron to discuss London's advice which he said would have consequences on the North African nation, heavily dependent on tourism.

Guidance issued Thursday by the Foreign Office in London forced tour operators from Britain, whose nationals bore the brunt of the beach massacre, to halt all holidays to Tunisia in a massive blow to a key sector of its economy.

The estimated 3,000 British tourists already in Tunisia had their holidays cut short, and some have already flown home.

Prime Minister Habib Essid told parliament late Thursday that the guidance "has repercussions, repercussions for other countries".

"We will ring the British prime minister to tell him we have done everything we can to protect all British interests and those of other countries -- that's our duty," Essid said.

"Britain is free to take whatever decision it likes; it's a sovereign country. But we too are a sovereign country, and we have a position to take."

Tunisia's foreign minister said his government would focus on trying to convince London to reverse its position.

- 'High risk' -

Denmark, however, also advised its citizens to leave, saying there was a "high risk" of another attack.

"If you are in Tunisia and do not have essential reasons for being there, you are advised to leave," the Danish foreign ministry said.

"There is a high risk of terrorist attacks," it said.

In contrast to Britain, France said it would not urge its nationals to leave Tunisia, but was warning people to be "particularly vigilant".

Tunisia has brought in a raft of new security measures, including arming tourist police, since a jihadist gunman killed 38 foreign holidaymakers, 30 of them Britons, at the beach resort of Port El Kantaoui on June 26.

On Saturday, Tunis declared a nationwide state of emergency for 30 days.

But Britain's Foreign Office said it did not believe there was "adequate protection" and advised against all but essential travel.

Finland on Friday also amended its travel recommendation for Tunisia to highlight "heightened risk for new terror attacks against tourists".

Within minutes of the advice from Britain, tour operators Thomson and First Choice said they had cancelled all flights to Tunisia until October 31.

Thomas Cook also said it had done the same and that it would repatriate all of its holidaymakers from Tunisia over the weekend.

Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche said Tunisia did not blame London for its decision but would seek a reversal.

"We are going to contact them to explain that we understand... but, little by little, we will try to convince them, perhaps, to go back on it."

- Security summit -

A diplomatic source said a meeting of security experts was planned in Tunis next week, including members of the G7, Spain and Belgium, to help Tunisia reinforce its capacity to protect sensitive places, including tourist sites.

Three Irish tourists died in June's attack, and Dublin on Friday warned its citizens to steer clear of Tunisia.

"We took the decision to upgrade our travel advice on Tunisia to advise against all non-essential travel," Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said.

He urged any Irish tourists still in Tunisia to make arrangements to leave, giving an estimate of 50 Irish citizens there.

Last month's massacre followed another in March, when two jihadists gunned down 21 tourists and a policeman at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.

Both attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group, have dealt a heavy blow to the tourism industry, which contributes between seven and eight percent of Tunisia's GDP.

The economic impact of the jihadist attacks, on top of the upheaval following the overthrow four years ago of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is likely to exceed half a billion dollars in 2015, Tourism Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik has said.

On Friday, security forces killed five suspected jihadists in the central Gafsa region, the interior ministry said.

UN experts, meanwhile, said almost 5,500 Tunisians are fighting alongside jihadists abroad and urged Tunis to adopt a "national strategic plan" to curb the flow.

"The number of Tunisian foreign fighters is one of the highest among those travelling to join conflicts abroad such as in Syria and Iraq," said Elzbieta Karska, current head of a UN working group on the use of mercenaries.

"Sophisticated travel networks operate to take recruits across the porous borders, and sometimes through areas where trafficking in people and illicit goods may not be effectively controlled," Karska said after an eight-day mission to Tunisia.