US, UK, Australia issue travel advisories

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WASHINGTON, CANBERRA EXTEND CONDOLENCES TO BLAST VICTIMS

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THE UNITED States, the United Kingdom and Australia on Saturday urged their citizens to take safety measures and avoid crowded areas following the explosion late Friday in a Davao City night market that killed at least 14 and wounded dozens.

In an “Emergency Message for US Citizens,” the US Embassy in Manila reiterated a previous warning of an “ongoing threat of terrorist actions and violence against United States citizens and interests abroad, including the Philippines,” and said it had suspended official travel of embassy personnel to Mindanao.

“The Embassy reminds US citizens of the importance of taking preventative measures to ensure their safety and security while traveling and residing in the Philippines,” it said.

The US Embassy also alerted Americans to the “knock and plead” operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP) “at those homes suspected of involvement in illegal drug operations,” including those in residential villages.

“Local PNP leadership has informed the embassy that the village sweeps are intended for the sole purpose of distributing information pamphlets so that residents know who to contact to report crimes or suspicious behavior,” it added.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to Mindanao, and “all travel to south-west Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of ongoing terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.”

“There is a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping. There has been an increase in kidnapping of foreign nationals since late 2015. It’s likely that terrorist groups continue to plan kidnap operations against Western nationals in the region. You should remain vigilant at all times,” the UK warning said.

“You should avoid large crowds and demonstrations and follow the advice of the local authorities,” it added.

Level two
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) reminded its citizens of its existing travel alert warning level two on the Philippines.

Level two means there are bigger risks in the location than what would typically be found in a larger Australian city. It may also reflect a weak law and order system or deficiencies in public services.

“We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in the Philippines due to the high threat of a terrorist attack and the high level of crime. You should pay close attention to your personal security at all times,” the department said on its website.

Terror organization Abu Sayyaf has claimed responsibility for the blast, adding that similar attacks should be expected in the coming days in response to the all-out offensive of the military against the group.

“Australians in Davao should exercise heightened vigilance, avoid the affected area and follow the advice of local authorities,” the DFAT said.

The department also advised Australians to “reconsider” the need to travel to eastern Mindanao “due to the very high levels of violent crime and the high threat of terrorist attack and kidnapping.”

It also warned its citizens “not to travel” to central and western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu archipelago and the southern Sulu Sea area “due to the very high threat of kidnapping, terrorist attack, violent crime and violent clashes between armed groups.”

Sympathies
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely expressed her sympathy to Davaoeños.

“My thoughts are with the people of #Davao. We stand by you. #StayStrongDavao,” she said on Twitter.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop extended her condolences, saying “Australia remains steadfast in our support for the Philippines in response to terrorism, and stands ready to offer any assistance to law enforcement authorities.”

In a statement released by the White House on Friday (Saturday in Manila), the United States expressed its condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of the Davao City explosion.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the US “stands ready to provide assistance” to the ongoing investigation.

He added that US President Barack Obama would convey his personal condolences to President Rodrigo Duterte next week, when they meet during an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Vientiane, Laos.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg also offered his condolences through Twitter.

“My deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of the explosion in Davao City,” he said.

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