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Philippines to fly home citizens near Japan plant

MANILA, April 12, 2011 (AFP) – The Philippine government said Tuesday it would fly home more than 2,000 of its citizens after Japan widened the exclusion zone around a quake-damaged nuclear plant amid fears of radiation.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the priority would be Filipinos living within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of the Fukushima plant, for whom evacuation would be “mandatory” – though he conceded the government could not compel these residents to leave.

Flights home would also be offered to those within a 100-kilometer radius of the plant, he said.

“We will relocate them as quickly as we can for those in areas where risk is highest,” he told a press conference, announcing aircraft chartered by Manila would be available for an estimated 2,000-plus Filipinos from April 17.

Health authorities would screen them on arrival in Manila for any illness that might be related to the nuclear disaster, he added.

The Philippine government later released figures saying more than 3,000 Filipinos lived within 100 kilometers of the plant.

Del Rosario admitted Manila could not force any Filipinos in Japan to leave against their will, adding many of its citizens in the affected areas were married to Japanese nationals and might not want to be repatriated.

Japan upgraded its month-old nuclear emergency to a maximum seven on an international scale of atomic crises on Tuesday, placing it on a par with the Chernobyl disaster a quarter-century ago.

Tokyo is now preparing to evacuate more people living near the plant, extending the 20-kilometer (12-mile) exclusion zone to other towns.

Previously, small numbers of Filipinos were flown back home by government after they were displaced by the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

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