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FOREIGN BRIEFING

Caution on Mexico visits

October 12, 2008|Ken Ellingwood; | Associated Press; and Reuters

1 Mexico

Last month's deadly grenade attack in colonial-era Morelia heightened doubts for would-be travelers about the safety of travel in Mexico.

The U.S. government isn't telling Americans to avoid the country, but it is urging caution.

Mexico's spiraling drug wars, with beheadings, gangland shootings and bodies found in gruesome heaps, have produced a drumbeat of alarming news.

In August, armed men killed 13 Mexican residents of a town in northern Mexico that tourists use to reach the scenic Copper Canyon region. Two weeks later, the decapitated bodies of 11 men were found piled in the Yucatan peninsula, 75 miles from the famed Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza.

Shootings have erupted in coastal Mazatlan and are regular events on the U.S. border. The grenade attack, in Morelia's postcard-pretty downtown, killed eight residents.

A State Department travel alert, in effect until Wednesday, urges Americans to be "especially alert to safety and security concerns" because of border violence. But it does not advise them to keep out.

"The vast majority of the thousands of U.S. citizens who cross the border by car or fly into Mexico's airports each day do so safely," U.S. Ambassador Antonio O. Garza said.

About 12 million Americans visit Mexico each year. U.S. tourists are not known to have been specifically targeted in the escalating violence.

Karen Ingram, a pharmacy technician in Jackson, Calif., wants to return with her husband in March to a village near Puerto Vallarta. But the latest violence gives her pause. Ingram said she was investigating whether there will be military checkpoints, which she would find "unnerving."

"We're still kind of on the fence," she said.

-- Ken Ellingwood

2 Cayman Islands

The Kittiwake, a decommissioned U.S. Navy submarine rescue ship, will be scuttled next year to create an underwater attraction for scuba divers and snorkelers.

-- Associated Press

3 Britain

Thousands of tourists were stranded after XL Leisure Group, Britain's third-biggest tour operator, grounded flights and collapsed. The company blamed the economic downturn and volatile fuel prices.

-- Reuters

4 Greece

The European Union approved Greece's plan to privatize debt-ridden Olympic Airlines by the end of 2009. The announcement set off strike threats and protests by labor unions.

-- Associated Press

5 Australia

Qantas Airways became the third airline to add an Airbus A380 when the super-jumbo jet flew from France, where it had been assembled, to Sydney. The jet will begin service between LAX and Australia on Oct. 20.

-- Associated Press

Trouble spots

The State Department recently issued warnings or alerts for these areas:

* Bolivia, because of the unstable social and security situation.

* Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, to update the security environment and urge U.S. citizens to exercise caution when planning travel to Israel, defer travel to the West Bank and avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip.

* Pakistan, to warn against nonessential travel because of terrorist activity.

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