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Gates looks to defuse tensions on China trip

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Defense Secretary Robert Gates hopes to defuse tensions with China’s growing military when he visits Beijing next week in the latest US bid to forge a security dialogue with the country’s skeptical generals.

US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, seen here in Afghanistan in 2010.

The trip, to include a tour of a nuclear weapons command center, carries hefty symbolism, with military relations marred by recurring strains and Washington increasingly impatient with Beijing’s stance toward North Korea.

Gates will leave Washington early Saturday. After three days of talks in China, he will head to Tokyo on Wednesday and Seoul on Friday for meetings focused on the volatile crisis on the divided Korean peninsula.

With Chinese President Hu Jintao due in Washington for a pivotal state visit on January 19, both sides are anxious to show progress in defense ties, which China has repeatedly suspended over US arms sales to Taiwan.

“This was something the Chinese very much wanted to do in advance of that trip (by Hu). They want to get this relationship back on track and working in a positive direction,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Friday.

The visit comes a year after Beijing broke off military relations in protest against a multibillion-dollar arms package for rival Taiwan.

Gates embarks on the journey “encouraged” and “optimistic” that military relations can be placed on a more solid foundation, said Morrell, but he acknowledged that previous efforts have produced only fleeting progress.

Days before the US defense chief’s trip, photographs appeared showing a prototype of China’s first stealth fighter, the J-20, at an airfield in the southwest.

The images of the fighter jet coincide with mounting concerns in the Pentagon about China’s increasingly assertive and capable military, including the development of anti-ship missiles that could undercut America’s navy.

Although China may be years away from fielding fully-capable anti-ship missiles or warplanes to rival US fighters, analysts say it is steadily gaining ground.

In his first visit to China since 2007, Gates is scheduled to hold an array of meetings with top officials, including President Hu and his counterpart, General Liang Guanglie.

On Wednesday Gates will visit the army’s Second Artillery Corps headquarters outside of Beijing, which is China’s nuclear command center.

The United States has long sought to open up regular discussions with the Chinese on nuclear, space and cyber weaponry. By talking to officers overseeing the atomic arsenal, Gates hopes to lay the groundwork for such a dialogue, officials said.

Aware of the Asian juggernaut’s rise, the United States for years has appealed to China to back a more “durable” dialogue — similar to US-Soviet exchanges during the Cold War — to avoid miscalculations.

But China has instead opted to sever ties in order to register its displeasure with Washington, particularly over billions of dollars in weapons deals to Taiwan.

“They will probably have some strong words about future arms sales to Taiwan,” said June Teufel Dreyer, an expert on the Chinese military and a professor at the University of Miami.

Because China senses its economic and military might expanding, Gates will not be in a strong negotiating position, she told AFP.

“He will be perceived as begging to get the military relationship back on track, enabling Beijing to ask ‘what do we get out of this?'”

Pentagon officials insist Gates is not out to plead with China.

“China will need to buy into the framework and the logic we see for the military-to-military relationship for its own reasons and in pursuit of its own interests, not because we ask them to,” Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said in a speech Thursday.

China’s fast-growing military will also be on the agenda when Gates travels to Japan on January 13-14, where he will hold talks with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa.

Tokyo last month announced a shift of strategy in which it would bolster its defenses in the south to address concerns about China’s armed forces as well as the threat posed by North Korea.

On Friday, Gates makes a brief stop in Seoul to discuss how to prevent tensions from escalating with North Korea in meetings with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the new defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin.

“China has a very important role to play here as well, to get Pyongyang to understand that its current course and its current behavior is extraordinarily dangerous and destabilizing,” said a senior defense official, who asked not to be named.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, North Korea took further steps to mend ties with the South, suggesting talks within weeks and reopening an office to encourage cooperation on the fractured peninsula.

The latest offer from Pyongyang followed an apparent easing in tensions, which have soared since the North shelled the South’s frontline Yeonpyeong island on November 23, killing four people.


Source: SGGP

Obama’s India Trip: What U.S. May Get in Return

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2010 at 6:51 am

Trip to Duong Lam ancient village

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Duong Lam ancient village, about 46 kilometres from Hanoi, is a famous Vietnamese ancient village of Hanoi and also the first ancient village recognized at the national level on 19 May, 2006.

Mong Phu gate with banian tree and river wharf.

A journey to the village is a trip to trace back the origin of Vietnam’s culture and tradition. This is also the great chance explore architecture of ancient houses while wander along its narrow alleyways, visit temples dedicated to the two kings born there, and most interesting of all, chat with locals living in the ancient houses.

Duong Lam Ancient Village is the only place in Vietnam where two kings came from.

Phung Hung (761-802) and Ngo Quyen (808-944), who were born and grew up in the village, led the resistance to and had victories over China’s Sung and Southern Han troops to recover national independence. They both became kings. After they died, temples were erected to worship them.

The village is a place to see for tourists from far and wide on the occasion of the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long – Hanoi. It is included in tours of many travel companies. Two of its famous places are Sung Nghiem Tu (Mia Pagoda) and Mong Phu Temple. Mia Pagoda is on a small hill in Dong Sang Hamlet.

The shape of Duong Lam road is fishbone.

To date, the Duong Lam village has 800 ancient houses.


Village well

Old Laterite wall

A 200-year old house in Mong Phu Hamlet

Source: SGGP

Trip to Duong Lam ancient village

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2010 at 4:00 am

Trip to Duong Lam ancient village

QĐND – Sunday, September 26, 2010, 21:0 (GMT+7)

Duong Lam ancient village, about 46 kilometres from Hanoi, is a famous Vietnamese ancient village of Hanoi and also the first ancient village recognized at the national level on 19 May, 2006.

A journey to the village is a trip to trace back the origin of Vietnam’s culture and tradition. This is also the great chance explore architecture of ancient houses while wander along its narrow alleyways, visit temples dedicated to the two kings born there, and most interesting of all, chat with locals living in the ancient houses.

Duong Lam Ancient Village is the only place in Vietnam where two kings came from.

Phung Hung (761-802) and Ngo Quyen (808-944), who were born and grew up in the village, led the resistance to and had victories over China’s Sung and Southern Han troops to recover national independence. They both became kings. After they died, temples were erected to worship them.

The village is a place to see for tourists from far and wide on the occasion of the 1,000th Anniversary of Thang Long – Hanoi. It is included in tours of many travel companies. Two of its famous places are Sung Nghiem Tu (Mia Pagoda) and Mong Phu Temple. Mia Pagoda is on a small hill in Dong Sang Hamlet.

The shape of Duong Lam road is fishbone.

To date, the Duong Lam village has 800 ancient houses.

Source: SGGP

Source: QDND

Ba Vi day trip offers respite from scorching city summer

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Ba Vi day trip offers respite from scorching city summer

QĐND – Sunday, July 25, 2010, 21:7 (GMT+7)

When a small group of my friends decided to head out of the city one summer day to try to escape the scorching heat, we didn’t have a destination, just an idea. So I suggested we go to Suoi Hai Lake, just 70km northwest of Ha Noi.

After an easy one-hour road trip, the loud noise and heat of city life seemed to have subsided.

Suoi Hai Lake, at the foot of Ba Vi Mountain, is a reservoir that was built in December 1958. It has a 4km-long system of main and supporting dams to reserve water from the Yen Cu and Cau Rong springs, giving the lake its name of Suoi Hai (Two Springs). The water from the lake irrigates 7,000ha of farmland.

When we arrived at the lake, we decided to take a motorbike tour around it. The road was smooth and surrounded by eucalyptus forests. We were refreshed by the cool breezes and, along the way, saw many people fishing on the bank.

There are a number of islands in the lake, and we even saw a boat full of tourists on the lake. After asking around, we came to the Suoi Hai Service Centre, which we had previously passed on our way. A woman in the centre told us that there were boats available around-the-clock to take tourists to the islands or cruise around the lake. The fares are reasonable. To get to the largest island, it only cost each of us VND30,000 (US$1.5), while hiring a private boat to go around the 90ha reservoir costs VND300,000 ($15), and you can stop at any island of your choice.

The four of us decided to get a boat and take a tour around the lake. We were not disappointed by the decision. As we glided on the water, stunning scenes opened up before our eyes. The islands, the clear water, the trees and the meadows of grazing cattle had the look of a fairy wonderland. Wild birds, such as teals, coots and cranes, swam around the boat, imparting an even more romantic air to the scene.

“Each season brings with it a different colour to the lake, but it is beautiful all year round,” said boat captain Vo Van Tan, as we set foot on an island. We were welcomed by the sweet smell of litchi and green grass. Local farmers have planted fruit trees on every island and tourists are allowed to pick and enjoy the fruits.

“The lake is a perfect weekend spot to spend time with your family,” said Nguyen Thi Loan, owner of a coffee shop on the island. “We mostly get visits from groups of students who came here for one-day picnics”.

Besides hiring a boat, you can rent a canoe at a very affordable VND15,000 per hour ($0.75) and row yourself around the lake. You can also go horseback riding around the lake or into the eucalyptus forests, or take a dip in the cool water of the lake.

If you want to stay for more than a day, accommodation is available at VND60,000 ($3) to VND120,000 ($6) per night. You can choose rooms at a conventional guesthouse or stay in one of the stilt-houses.

Last year, a $200 million resort was planned at the lake by PetroVietnam Premier Recreation, but environmental activists and local residents raised concerns with the plan, which was revised and is now in its first stage of construction.

“The first phase will be completed in 2012,” said the deputy head of Ba Vi’s culture department, Nguyen Viet Giao. It will change the face of Suoi Hai Lake, as most of the 14 islands will be taken over by resorts, golf courses, hotels and restaurants.

“The current plan has received agreeable nods from residents,” said Giao. “In two years, tourism will give Ba Vi’s economy a considerable boost, and people’s living standards will therefore be improved.”

In other words, in just two more years, weekends at Suoi Hai Lake won’t be the same. Come now and enjoy the serenity while it lasts.

Source: VietNamNet/Viet Nam News


Source: QDND

Bin Laden hunter on final leg of trip to Colorado

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2010 at 4:37 am

An American on a solo mission to hunt down Osama bin Laden is on the final leg of his trip home to Colorado, 10 days after authorities found him in the woods of northern Pakistan with a pistol, a sword and night-vision equipment.

jubilant Gary Faulkner stepped into the security check line at Los Angeles International Airport at about 7:20 p.m. Wednesday for his flight to Denver, accompanied by his brother, sister and mother.

“It’s incredible to have him home,” said Faulkner’s sister, Deanna Martin.

Wearing a gray shirt, sandals and beige chinos, and with his long gray hair pulled into a pony tail, Faulkner said he was treated well by the Pakistanis during his confinement.

Gary Faulkner gets ready to board a connection flight, back home to Colorado, on Wednesday afternoon, after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday, June 23, 2010, in Los Angeles

Hours earlier, he had arrived on an Emirates Airlines flight from Pakistan, where he’d been detained since June 13. He told officials he was out to kill the al-Qaida leader. He was then moved to Islamabad, and his brother told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he was being released by the Pakistani government without charges.

Faulkner, of Greeley, Colo., said organizing his trip “took a lot of money and a lot of time.” Asked if he’d try it again, Faulkner said “Absolutely,” adding cryptically, “You’ll find out at the end of August.”

Faulkner earlier spoke to reporters about his trip and his intent to get bin Laden.

“This is not about me. What this is about is the American people and the world,” he said in comments aired on KTLA-TV shortly after his arrival. “We can’t let people like this scare us. We don’t get scared by people like this, we scare them and that’s what this is about. We’re going to take care of business.”

Gary Faulkner is an out-of-work construction worker who sold his tools to finance six trips on what relatives have called a Rambo-type mission to kill or capture bin Laden. He grew out his hair and beard to fit in better.

Scott Faulkner told reporters last week that his brother wasn’t crazy, just determined to find the man America’s military has failed to capture nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks.

“Is it out of the norm? Yes, it is. But is it crazy? No,” Scott Faulkner said. “If he wore a uniform and called himself special ops, would he be crazy?”

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington that the family would have the best information on Faulkner’s case. Faulkner, two department officials have said, refused to sign a waiver allowing the government to discuss his case publicly.

“In this particular case, as in all cases where we have an American citizen in custody of another country, we are in touch with that individual, we are in touch with his family,” Crowley said. “We stayed in close contact with him and with his family throughout this, and we are gratified it was resolved rapidly.”

Faulkner left Colorado on May 30. Scott Faulkner, a physician in the northeastern Colorado town of Fort Morgan, dropped off his brother at the airport and wasn’t sure he’d see him again. But he and other relatives have insisted that Gary Faulkner left the U.S. unarmed, had a valid visa for Pakistan and was guilty of no crime while there.

Indeed, relatives have said they hope the trip encourages more people to look for bin Laden.

“Now there’s going to be hopefully a renewed effort to get this guy — he’s still wanted, and he’s still out there,” Scott Faulkner said last week.

Source: SGGP

Obama to make fourth trip to oil disaster zone

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm

President Barack Obama unveiled plans for a fourth visit to the Gulf of Mexico next week, with his three-state tour reflecting the widening footprint of the US oil disaster zone.

Obama will visit Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, all of which have coastlines, fishing industries and tourist beaches damaged or threatened by the massive oil slick spawned by the April 20 explosion on a BP-operated rig.

On the 50th day of the disaster meanwhile, Obama lashed out at media “talking heads” who have criticized his response and said if it was up to him, he would fire BP CEO Tony Hayward over several flippant public comments.

“On Monday, June 14 and Tuesday, June 15, President Obama will travel to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to further assess the latest efforts to counter the BP oil spill,” the White House said in a statement.

Obama has made three previous trips to the disaster area, all of them to Louisiana, until now the main focus of efforts to mop up the oil slick, and to plug the ruptured well that caused America’s worst environmental disaster.

A laughing gull coated in heavy oil wallows in the surf on June 4, on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana.

Earlier, Obama struck a tougher rhetorical tone on the disaster, despite insisting he was not playing politics or putting on a show for news cameras.

Hayward, whose sardonic English tones and comments, including a prediction that the Gulf spill would be “very, very modest,” have irked some Americans, found himself directly in the cross-hairs.

“He wouldn’t be working for me after making any of those statements,” Obama said on the NBC “Today Show.”

Hayward has since apologized for his remarks.

Obama revealed he had not spoken to Hayward, since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, saying there would be little point.

“When you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words. I’m interested in actions.”

Hayward can expect another tough ride next week: a key House of Representatives panel Tuesday said he would testify on the disaster on June 17.

Obama, who made the latest of his three trips to the disaster zone last week, insisted he had no time for playing politics — though his comments seem to be taking on an increasingly political cast.

He told NBC he was looking for some “ass to kick” as recriminations mount and oil reaps a dreadful toll on seabirds, Louisiana wetlands, teeming fishing grounds and idyllic beaches.

He rejected claims he had been too cool, or slow in his response.

“I’m going to push back hard on this because I think that this is an idea that got into folks’ heads and the media is running with it.

“I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf,” he said.

The undersea effort to capture spewing oil is accelerating.

Coastguard Admiral Thad Allen, who is heading the government response, said BP engineers had captured 14,842 barrels of oil over the last 24 hours from a containment cap placed over the well that blew on April 20, a significant increase from Monday’s tally.

It remains unclear how much oil is spewing out of the busted wellhead, and officials have warned they will not be able to siphon off all of the excess crude until relief wells are dug — likely not until August.

“We’ve gone from about 6,000 barrels up to almost 15,000,” Allen said.

Later, asked about estimates the leak could be gushing as much as 25,000-60,000 a day, Allen told ABC News: “I don’t know if it would be that high.

“Everything we know and everything we see is through the either remote sensors or remote-operated vehicles that are like looking through a particular keyhole at a particular time.”

Underwater video footage of the wellhead, and the containment cap installed by BP last week still appeared to show substantial oil escaping into the sea from the ruptured well.

There was also sobering news on the scope of the environmental damage, as scientists said that they had found evidence of an undersea oil plume at a size of 3,300 feet more than 40 miles from the disaster site.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it had “fingerprinted” the oil to confirm it came from the BP well, though said the residue was currently at “low concentrations.”

BP had previously said oil plumes, which could pose deep threats to marine life, had not been discovered.

Still oil prices were up on Tuesday, fluttering around 72 dollars a barrel as expectations of slipping inventories and short term demand beat out fears of a faltering economy. New York’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in July, rose 55 cents to 71.99 dollars a barrel.

Commentators have drawn parallels between Obama’s handling of the slick, and his predecessor George W. Bush’s botched management of Hurricane Katrina that devastated the same coastline in 2005.

Political warning signs over the disaster are proliferating.

A recent CBS News poll showed only thirty-eight percent of Americans approve of the way the administration is dealing with the spill.

A Washington Post/ABC survey revealed more Americans disapprove of Obama’s response to the oil spill than disapprove of Bush’s Katrina performance.

Source: SGGP

Thailand ‘back’ after unrest, PM says on first overseas trip

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2010 at 10:18 am

HO CHI MINH CITY, June 6, 2010 (AFP) – Thailand is “back” after recent deadly unrest, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Sunday on his first trip abroad since the end of crippling anti-government protests.

“We are back, stable and secure,” he told the World Economic Forum on East Asia, a gathering of global business leaders and regional politicians.

Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva (L) speaks as Vietnamese PM Nguyen Tan Dung listens during the World Economic Forum on East Asia being held in Ho Chi Minh City on June 6, 2010. AFP PHOTO

Thai troops moved on May 19 against the fortified encampment which “Red Shirt” anti-government protesters had occupied in an upscale retail and hotel district of central Bangkok.

The move brought an end to street demonstrations and outbreaks of violence which, at their climax, turned parts of Bangkok into battlezones, left major buildings torched, and led to travel warnings from foreign governments.

Unrest also spread to the Reds’ stronghold in the impoverished northeast.

Eighty-nine people, mostly civilians, and nearly 1,900 were wounded in violent outbreaks during two months of protests.

Abhisit said he would not have been able to attend the World Economic Forum if it had been held two weeks earlier and his presence demonstrated that Thailand will “try to do our part in contributing to regional growth”.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), had earlier voiced relief that the violence had abated, following fears that it could threaten regional stability.

“Now that they have gone through that period, and stability seems to come back and reconciliation is now in progress… I think I can say that all ASEAN states heave a big sigh, that we are relieved,” secretary general Surin Pitsuwan told reporters on the sidelines of the forum.

In a rare statement about the internal affairs of a member state, ASEAN on May 21 said peace and stability in Thailand were crucial to the 10-member bloc.

The “Red Shirt” protesters, mostly urban and rural poor, were demanding an end to Abhisit’s government which they see as undemocratic.

Despite the optimistic tone he brought to the Vietnam forum, in his weekly television address at home on Sunday, he said it was too early to lift a two-month-old state of emergency in place across about one third of the country, including Bangkok, because of fears of fresh unrest.

“We have to accept that even though the situation seems to be more back to normal now, the problems of terrorism and security still exist,” Abhisit said in the television address.

Source: SGGP

Bishop’s murder clouds papal trip to Cyprus

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2010 at 10:16 am

NICOSIA (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Cyprus Friday on a three-day visit clouded by the murder of a Catholic bishop in Turkey and amid regional tension over a deadly Israeli raid on a pro-Palestinian aid flotilla.

The Vatican has said the pontiff will make “peace” the central theme of his visit, during which he faces some opposition from the country’s majority Orthodox community.

Children have their photo taken in front of a huge poster of Pope Benedict XVI in Nicosia. AFP photo

He arrives early afternoon on the eastern Mediterranean island where regional leaders of the Catholic Church have been gathering to welcome him.

Absent, however, will be the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Turkey, Bishop Luigi Padovese, who was murdered on Thursday, apparently by his driver and bodyguard in an attack which the Vatican said had left it “deeply dismayed.”

The driver, a Turkish convert to Christianity with mental health problems, has been arrested for the bishop’s murder in the garden of his summer house in a seaside town near Iskenderun.

“It is a terrible act, and it leaves us deeply dismayed and naturally very sad,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

Lombardi earlier this week had described Monday’s Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine people were killed, as “a very sad and distressing event for the general climate” in the Middle East.

But he said it would not affect the pontiff’s visit to Cyprus, during which he will meet and pray with the island’s small minority of Roman Catholic faithful, swelled by migrant workers from Asia.

The pontiff’s official mission is to hand over a working document for a synod of Middle Eastern bishops to discuss regional issues in October.

In excerpts from the document leaked by Italy’s ANSA news agency, the Vatican calls the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories a “political injustice imposed on the Palestinians.”

The document criticises the occupation, saying it “makes daily life difficult for freedom of movement, the economy and social and religious life.”

Lombardi said the document expands on a January text that said Christians and Muslims should face the threat of Islamic extremism together.

Unveiling the pope’s programme, Lombardi said “peace will be the key of this trip,” the first by any pope to Cyprus.

The visit is Benedict’s first to a mainly Orthodox country and is at the invitation of President Demetris Christofias and of Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.

It will emphasise unity among Christian churches and ecumenism, Lombardi said.

Some Cypriot clergy view the pope as a heretic, and a number of bishops have said they will boycott a visit by Benedict to the archbishop’s palace.

Influential Bishop Athanasios of Limassol drew a rebuke from Chrysostomos after saying “we love the pope, we love his followers like we do all people, we do not show them contempt or reject them as people, but we do not accept heresy or accept the wrong faith.”

Lombardi dismissed the opposition as “marginal.”

Paedophilia scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church for months have led to two groups calling for the pope’s arrest “as soon as he sets foot in Cyprus,” claiming Benedict “has covered up hundreds of crimes against innocent children by paedophile priests.”

There have been unconfirmed reports that there might be demonstrations by people incensed over the paedophilia scandal, or angry over the leader of the Roman Catholic Church coming to Orthodox Cyprus.

Some 1,000 police have been deployed to ensure that the pope’s visit passes without incident.

On his arrival Friday afternoon in the southwestern resort of Paphos, the pontiff will bless an olive tree to be planted at the airport and then address an “ecumenical celebration” at the ancient church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa.

It was there that legend says Saint Paul, visiting the island to spread the new Christian faith, was ordered to be whipped.

The pope will spend Saturday and Sunday in Nicosia, where he will celebrate two masses.

Source: SGGP

After 35-hour bus trip, German tourists back from Spain

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2010 at 9:46 am

FRANKFURT, April 20, 2010 (AFP) – “We were supposed to fly back on Sunday,” says exhausted German housewife Adelheid Jung, one of about 700 stranded tourists brought back from Spain in special buses to Frankfurt overnight.

Like millions of travellers around the world, Jung’s holiday dream in the southern city of Malaga ended with a nightmare, stuck by the volcanic ash cloud spewing from Iceland that grounded all flights back to Germany.

In the end, her only choice was a gruelling 35-hour bus trip of around 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles), organised and paid for by tour operator TUI.

And despite being ambushed by reporters at the end of the punishing journey, Jung managed to put on a brave face on the situation.

Passengers wait to complete check-in formalities at Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam on April 20, 2010. AFP photo

“We were lucky to get this bus, and then our son-in-law has come to pick us up in his car to take us home to Cologne,” she said, steeling herself for the 200-kilometre final stretch.

With 100,000 of its customers stranded, the ash cloud is a financial and logistical catastrophe for TUI, which estimates it is losing almost seven million euros (nine million dollars) every day without flights.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Adi Juen, a TUI staff member in Frankfurt as he handed out bottles of mineral water for the parched passengers trooping off the coaches.

Rather than wait for airspace restrictions to be lifted, TUI decided to begin hauling some of its stranded holidaymakers — including 20,000 Germans — back home overland.

German airspace was expected to be closed until at least 1200 GMT Tuesday, although some airlines, notably Lufthansa and Air Berlin have been given special permission to operate flights at low altitudes.

Lufthansa, Europe’s biggest airline by passenger numbers, said it would run around 200 flights on Tuesday, with most of its long-haul operations in service.

Air Berlin, Germany’s number two, said it was almost back to normal on Tuesday and was able to fly between Germany and the Spanish island of Majorca, a favourite tourist destination for Germans.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, named the world’s most powerful woman by Forbes magazine, was powerless in the face of the travel chaos caused by the ash cloud.

Returning from a summit in the United States, Merkel was forced to stop over in Lisbon, where she took a flight to Rome, eventually getting back to Berlin via a mixture of coach and armour-plated limousine.

But for ordinary people at Frankfurt station, the nightmare was not yet over.

“We’ve just missed our train for Hamburg, where we left our car,” Bernd Vollertsen, a retired soldier who had spent a week on the Costa del Sol with his wife and some friends, told AFP after his 35-hour journey.

His group were preparing for their third consecutive night in a hotel — with TUI picking up the tab.

“We’ve been well treated. Everything has been well organised to welcome us back,” he said.

“But now I just want to get home.”

Source: SGGP