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Mexico criticizes 'repressive' swine flu measures in China, sends plane to collect citizens
BEIJING (AP) — A chartered Mexican plane headed to several Chinese cities Tuesday to collect up to 70 Mexicans quarantined over swine flu fears in what their president denounced as discrimination and one stranded traveler compared to a kidnapping.
China, meanwhile, sent its own plane to retrieve Chinese nationals stranded in Mexico.
Police surrounded a hotel in Shanghai where Mexicans were quarantined and two dozen ambulances arrived in preparation to take them to the airport. The chartered Mexican flight was to make stops in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong before returning later Tuesday to Mexico city.
One Mexican traveler under quarantine in Beijing described the tight security at the hotel where she and other Mexicans have been held since Saturday.
"There are soldiers who won't let us go past the gate," Mirna Elisa Berlanga told Radio Formula in Mexico. "This is like a kidnapping for us."
Mexican President Felipe Calderon complained of a backlash against Mexicans abroad and announced Monday that he would send the plane to several Chinese cities to pick up Mexicans who wanted to leave China. In one case, the Mexican ambassador said, a family with three small children were rousted from their hotel before dawn and taken to a hospital.
"I think it's unfair that because we have been honest and transparent with the world some countries and places are taking repressive and discriminatory measures because of ignorance and disinformation," Calderon said.
China's Foreign Ministry denied Mexicans were singled out.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry added that it hoped Mexico would "address the issue in an objective and calm manner." China had earlier canceled the only direct flights between China and Mexico, a twice weekly service by Aeromexico.
"This is purely a question of health inspection and quarantine," ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.
Late Monday, China sent a chartered flight to Mexico City and Tijuana to pick up 200 stranded Chinese nationals, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The flight was expected to return Wednesday morning, the report said.
A group of 29 Canadian university students and a professor also have been quarantined at a hotel in China since the weekend over swine flu fears. Canada has 140 confirmed cases of swine flu. The group does not have any flu symptoms, University of Montreal spokeswoman Sophie Langlois said Monday.
China had quarantined 71 Mexicans at hospitals and hotels, Mexico's Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinoza said. None of the travelers in isolation has swine flu symptoms and most had no contact with infected people or places, Mexico's ambassador, Jorge Guajardo, said.
None of those in isolation had symptoms and most had no contact with infected persons or places, he said.
Xinhua cited Deng Xiaohong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau, as saying the 20 people being held in the city, including 10 Mexicans, had come into "close contact" with the swine flu virus — but provided no details. He said authorities were treating those in isolation well.
Xinhua said none of those quarantined in the cities of Beijing and Shanghai and Liaoning province had presented flu symptoms as of noon Monday.
In Hong Kong, 274 people remained isolated in a hotel Monday after a Mexican traveler there was determined to have swine flu. The Hong Kong government originally said 350 people were in the hotel but revised the figure Monday.
Mexico also criticized Argentina, Peru and Cuba for banning flights.
China's authoritarian government doesn't stand on niceties when shifting into crisis mode, locking down much of the country during last summer's Beijing Olympics and sealing off Tibetan areas following anti-government protests last year.
Its responses can often be extreme, shifting from neglectful to over-the-top. During the 2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, officials went from denying they had a problem to shutting down much of the country and quarantining scores of people virtually overnight.
Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City and Audra Ang in Beijing contributed to this report.