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Turkey opens airspace to U.S.

Incirlik air base, Turkey, is already being used for no-fly zone patrols.
Incirlik air base, Turkey, is already being used for no-fly zone patrols.

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ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkey has agreed to let U.S. and coalition aircraft use its airspace for military operations against Iraq.

The Turkish parliament voted 332-202 to allow war planes to fly over Turkey en route to Iraq.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck, in Turkey, said the vote by the only Muslim member of NATO was "good news" for U.S. military planners.

He said the vote referred to "overflight rights to foreign nations," meaning any coalition aircraft could use Turkish airspace, not just U.S. planes.

The vote does not let U.S. forces use Turkish bases for an attack on Iraq, the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Erdogan's new government has been under intense pressure to let U.S. forces use its territory to open a northern front against Iraq. But opinion polls in Turkey show the public overwhelmingly opposed to war.

The United States had sought the use of Turkish bases for about 62,000 troops in order to move against Iraq from the north.

Parliament rejected an earlier proposal to allow U.S. troops into Turkey despite U.S. promises of billions of dollars in aid.

Immediately after Thursday's airspace vote, the Turkish parliament also authorized Turkish soldiers to enter northern Iraq to create what would amount to a buffer zone.

Turkish officials are concerned that if a U.S.-led coalition topples Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Kurds in northern Iraq could gain control of Iraqi oil fields and use that as leverage to create an independent Kurdish territory in northern Iraq.

That could prompt Kurds in southeastern Turkey could rise up as well, Ankara fears.

Travel warnings

Also on Thursday, the U.S. State Department authorized the departure of family members and non-essential U.S. personnel from the embassy and consulates in Turkey.

Under an authorized departure, which is voluntary, the U.S. government will pay travel expenses for those who want to leave.

The decision covers employees at all U.S. posts in the country, including the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul and U.S. consulates in Adana and Izmir. All facilities remain open to the public.

A travel warning issued Wednesday urged U.S. citizens to leave the country.

"Due to heightened tensions and increased security concerns resulting from the current situation in the region, the Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Turkey," the advisory says.

"U.S. citizens in Turkey should consider departing."

The U.S. State Department Wednesday also reissued a travel warning to Americans overseas, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

The State Department also issued a separate warning to Americans in North Africa and the Middle East, noting that U.S. citizens in the Middle East region face "the risk of attacks by terrorist groups, including those with links to al Qaeda."

"Terrorist actions may include suicide operations, bombings or kidnappings," the warning said.

The U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, released a warden's message Thursday advising Americans in that Persian Gulf country to "take prudent steps to ensure their personal safety in the coming days" as a result of the commencement of war in Iraq.

About 4 million U.S. citizens live overseas, and thousands more are traveling outside the country any given day, according to the State Department.


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