March 14, 2020 / 6:29 PM / 17 days ago

UPDATE 1-France scrambles to repatriate citizens as Morocco stops flights over coronavirus

(Adds ambassador on numbers of nationals in Morocco)

PARIS/RABAT, March 14 (Reuters) - French authorities were trying on Saturday to arrange emergency travel from Morocco to bring back hundreds of French nationals who found themselves unable to leave the country after flights to European countries were suspended over coronavirus fears.

Morocco, which so far has 17 cases of the virus, has suspended all soccer matches, closed schools, halted flights to nine countries and cancelled gatherings of more than 50 people.

“Thousands of French were in Morocco when the decision was taken to stop flights to France. It’s a very difficult situation,” Helene Le Gal, France’s ambassador to Morocco, said in a video posted on Twitter.

French television stations and social media showed hundreds of people at Marrakesh airport with no flights available and nowhere to go.

“To our compatriots stranded in Morocco: new flights are being organised to allow you to return to France. I am asking the Moroccan authorities to ensure that everything necessary is done as soon as possible,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter.

Videos recorded on Saturday at Marrakesh airport showed dozens of stranded passengers, some chanting “Macron, a plane!”

Le Gal said the embassy had received some 6,000 calls in the last 24 hours and said that the government was trying to find alternative routes to get people out of Morocco and accommodation for those with nowhere to stay.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he had spoken to his counterpart and hoped that flights would also be arranged soon. (Reporting by John Irish Additional reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi in Rabat Editing by Frances Kerry, William Maclean and James Drummond)

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