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FOREIGN BRIEFING

Hawker-free pyramid zone

September 07, 2008|Noha El-Hennawy

1 Egypt

To ensure that tourists contemplate the grandeur of the Giza Pyramids without having to dodge hawkers and trinket peddlers, Egypt is spending $14 million to revamp the World Heritage site.

As part of the project, the Cultural Ministry has built a fence of barbed-wire and concrete around the more than 4,000-year-old wonders. Security also includes infrared sensors and nearly 200 cameras.

"It was a zoo," Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist, said recently in describing swarms of peddlers who pursued tourists through dust and heat, according to the Associated Press. "Now we are protecting both the tourists and the ancient monuments."

The government is also adding more entrances to spare visitors long waits in line, said Rehab Nahhas, an inspector at the site. Each entrance will be equipped with surveillance technology. Chariots and camel riders have been relegated to a separate gate.

Nevertheless, some peddlers slip through security. On one recent visit, they followed visitors almost everywhere around the pyramids, offering camel rides.

For some tourists, the onslaught of clanging baubles, Nefertiti busts and papyrus scrolls, along with chants of "mister, mister," only adds to the ambience.

"It is the normal by North African standards," said James Hall, a British tourist taking pictures from a nearby hill. "One or two people asking you to buy something or sit on their camels. . . . It is part of the experience. It gives some character, but you don't want too many [hawkers]."

According to local media, the renovation project is expected to be completed in two years. Roads leading to the site are expected to be paved, and shanty neighborhoods surrounding the area will be razed.

-- Noha El-Hennawy

2 China

The Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa reopened five months after authorities closed it during anti-government riots in Tibet. The 15th century Buddhist complex is a popular site for visitors.

-- Associated Press

3 Mexico

Warring drug cartels are suspected in a series of murders in various cities, including tourist spots such as Tijuana and Creel, gateway to scenic Copper Canyon. In a travel alert effective until Oct. 15, the State Department, while noting there is no evidence that Americans are being targeted, urged them to exercise caution.

-- Times staff

4 France

The weak dollar knocked Americans off their perch as Paris' most numerous foreign visitors in the first half of this year, the city's tourism office said. The British are in first place.

-- Reuters

5 Canada

Thousands were stranded after Ottawa-based Zoom Airlines suddenly canceled all flights, citing financial problems. While mainly serving Canada and Britain, the budget carrier recently started London service out of San Diego.

-- Associated Press

Caution spots

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

* Kenya, to advise Americans to evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing threats from terrorism and crime.

* Colombia, to warn U.S. citizens of the potential for violence by narco-terrorists and other criminal elements.

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