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FOREIGN BRIEFING

Many vacation spots fire-free in Australia's Victoria state

February 22, 2009|Jennifer Bennett | Associated Press; Reuters

1 Australia

Marysville was once a picture-perfect country town in what's locally known as the Mystic Mountains region near Melbourne. Leafy streets lined with cottages and pubs gave way to rising hills covered by a forest that hid waterfalls, horse trails and the Taggerty River.

All that is now gone, along with much of the surrounding countryside, devoured earlier this month in Australia's worst-ever brush fires, which have killed more than 180 people. It could take up to five years for forests to recover, a wildlife worker said.

Healesville Sanctuary in the Yarra Valley, a tourist attraction and one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in Victoria state, escaped fire damage. But it remained closed to visitors last week as the staff dealt with the overall effects and the inevitable arrival of animals needing treatment.

Melbourne also escaped fire damage. Although some smoke was still drifting into the city, it was expected to dissipate soon, and much of Victoria was open for business.

Tourism officials said there were still many options for vacationers.

"While Victoria's tourism industry, in particular areas of certain regions, has been impacted by bush fire, many of our natural assets, regional towns, tourism businesses and products across the state still offer unique tourism experiences," said Ali Garner of Tourism Victoria.

The Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island, the Mornington Peninsula, the Bellarine Peninsula, Geelong, the Grampians, Dandenong Ranges, East Gippsland and other regions popular with visitors remained accessible and fire-free as of last week.

Garner said the government was asking people to stay away from fire-damaged areas because visitors would hinder the rebuilding process.

-- Jennifer Bennett

2 China

Worried about political unrest, China banned foreign visitors from many parts of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces just before the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising. Last year, the March anniversary spurred deadly riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and protests in the three nearby provinces.

-- Associated Press

3 Israel

A record 3 million people visited Israel last year, up 32% from 2007, the country's tourism ministry said. About 617,000 were from the U.S., also a record and the largest number from any country.

Most of the data were collected before Israel's late-December offensive in the Gaza Strip.

-- Reuters

4 Italy

Here's a new option for Venice visitors who think ahead: Buy a pass for public toilets. No more fumbling for the required euro (about $1.30); just whip out a weekly toilet card. It's available online at www.veniceconnected.com recently for about 7 euros (about $9).

-- Reuters

5 Mexico

Thieves are apparently targeting visitors who exchange money at Mexico City's airport, authorities said, by following them after they leave the terminal. In recent months, police said, at least three foreigners have been robbed, including a French citizen who was shot and wounded Jan. 27 after he refused to hand over money.

-- Associated Press

Caution spots

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

Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf, because of heightened security concerns.

Guadeloupe and Martinique, because of labor strikes affecting these French West Indies islands.

Syria, because of ongoing safety and security concerns.

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