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Europe filghts rescheduled after Iceland volcano eruption

Reykjavik/London/Warsaw: (DPA) The closures of European airspace were moving southward with the rolling cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano, which continued to wreak havoc Sunday with tens of thousands of stranded airline passengers.

Flight bans were imposed in Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and northern Italy and northern Serbia, after similar action across the British Isles and northern and central Europe, the European air traffic safety body Eurocontrol said.

The unprecedented shutdown of much of European airspace looked set to continue at least through the weekend, depending on weather conditions.

Airports remained closed in Poland, including Krakow, where dozens of world leaders had hoped to attend Sunday's funeral of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, who died in an April 10 plane crash.

US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Austrian President Heinz Fischer were among the leaders who announced late Saturday that they would be unable to attend.

Kings Carl Gustav of Sweden and Juan Carlos of Spain and British Crown Prince Charles have also cancelled their plans to join mourners in Krakow.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus changed his plans and is travelling to the funeral by train and then car.

Although the shutdown is currently only over much of Europe, the repercussions are being felt by the airline industry worldwide - with hundreds of passengers stuck in India who had been hoping to travel to Europe. In the Mexican beach resort of Cancun, some 600 German tourists were reported stranded after their flights home were cancelled.

The Kenyan economy is forecast to lose millions of euros in exports of cut flowers that cannot be delivered. Deliveries of other perishible produce, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, are similarly disrupted.

The Meteorological Institute in Reykjavik said Saturday that it had seen to reduction in the plume of fire and ash from the volcano near the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier in southern Iceland.

Winds had turned to the south, meaning that the clouds of ash would continue to be driven across Europe by the prevailing jetstream.

Eurocontrol said the clouds had formed into a pincer, spreading southward across the continent, sparing only Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus in the north and southern Europe including Spain, the southern Balkan area, southern Italy, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.

The safety panel said late Saturday that only 5,000 of the 22,000 flights that are normal for a Saturday would be able to take off or land, adding that no immediate let up was in sight.

"Forecasts suggest that the cloud of volcanic ash will persist and that the impact will continue for at least the next 24 hours," Eurocontrol warned.

As conditions continued to worsen, countries around Europe kept aircraft grounded for a third day, stranding tens of thousands of travellers.

Budget carrier Ryanair said the continuing emission of volcanic ash into the atmosphere over Iceland caused it to cancel all scheduled flights to and from Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, Northern France, northern Germany, Poland and the Baltic States until Monday afternoon.

"This spreading cloud of volcanic ash is an unprecedented event in Ryanair's 26-year-history," chief executive Michael O'Leary said.

Airlines fear the powdery, abraisive ash could get sucked into planes' jet engines, causing them to cut out.

Britain extended the closure of its airspace until at least 7 p.m. (1800 GMT) and reversed its decision to lift restrictions on Scotland and Northern Ireland, hours after easing them, the BBC reported.

Czech and Slovak airspace remained closed, along with northern Serbia and Bulgaria, while Paris' airports would be shut until at least Monday.

The flight ban aggravated traffic congestion in France, already reeling from a rail strike now in its 11th day. The start of school holidays added to the chaos on the roads.

German airspace will be closed until at least Sunday afternoon. Additional trains were running across Germany to meet the rise in demand for alternatives to aviation.

Flights in northern Spain were cancelled, including all those out of Oviedo.

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