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Ash Cancels 345 Flights in Moscow

A plume of ash rising fr om the volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier on Monday, April 19. Meteorologists in Iceland said eruptions from the volcano were weakening and the ash was no longer rising to a height wh ere it would endanger large commercial aircraft. Brynjar Gauti

Ash from an Icelandic volcano some 3,300 kilometers from Moscow continued to beleaguer the capital’s three main airports, with 345 canceled flights and 73 delayed, according to official data Monday evening.

Cancellations around Russia have left 38,800 passengers in the lurch, primarily those headed east, according to data as of 6 p.m. on the Federal Air Transportation Agency’s web site.

The travel problems had hit a dozen airports, from Murmansk to Rostov-on-Don and as far east as the Siberian cities of Novosibirsk and Tyumen, the statement said. St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo had 124 canceled flights, stranding more than 10,200 people.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano has been disrupting air travel over Europe since Thursday, closing airports across the continent and sending airlines in search of meandering routes over the Arctic to evade the drifting ash cloud.

Meteorologists said Monday that the eruptions were weakening, but the havoc continued for airports, airlines and passengers. Eurocontrol, the European Union's aviation oversight body, said 8,000 flights to 9,000 flights would take place in European airspace during the day, compared with 28,000 on an average Monday.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents about 230 airlines, blasted the governments' response, saying Europe had overreacted and was not basing its response on global experience.

"This crisis is costing airlines at least $200 million a day in lost revenues, and the European economy is suffering billions of dollars in lost business. In the face of such dire economic consequences, it is incredible that Europe’s transport ministers have taken five days to organize a teleconference,” Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s head, said in a statement on its web site.

Valery Dyadyuchenko, deputy head of Russia's Federal Meteorological Service, told Interfax that ash from Eyjafjallajokull would cover a third of European Russia by Monday evening, including airspace near Moscow.

He also said there had not yet been any reports of excessively high levels of harmful substances on the ground.

Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Federal Consumer Protection Service, said that if the situation worsened, he might recommend that people with respiratory ailments stay inside.

The volcano has had a more dramatic impact on travelers, including many Russian tourists who had vacations booked with tour operators.

"I'm certain that foreign tourists have fairly high chances of defending their rights, since they have their rights clearly spelled out in their contracts," Onishchenko told Itar-Tass. "But with our tourists, who have a gentle, post-Soviet belief in our work and who don't pay any attention at all to their agreements, then, most of them will have very small chances of getting anything back."

He said, however, that the service would be glad to help tourists who believe that their rights have been violated, Itar-Tass reported.

Sheremetyevo was planning to resume flights to some cities in Turkey, Italy, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Armenia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Israel, France, Poland, Serbia, Finland, Slovenia, and Egypt, Interfax reported.

Russian Railways' passenger subsidiary said Monday that it filled an additional 3,000 seats on trains to and from Europe in the three days ending Sunday, Interfax reported. ? 

The cloud also has brought chaos to diplomats' busy schedules.

The Education and Science Ministry said a U.S. delegation that was supposed to arrive Tuesday for talks to defuse a threatened adoption standstill would not be coming because of the difficulty flying over Europe. The visit has been delayed until next week, the U.S. Embassy said.

Leonid Slutsky, deputy chairman of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, told Interfax that Russia's delegation would not miss a session next Monday of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

"If we have to crawl, if we have to take buses, we'll definitely be at the assembly session," said Slutsky, the deputy head of Russia's delegation.

He said the delegation's head, Duma Deputy Konstantin Kosachyov, has not been able to fly out of Belgrade for three days.

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