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Flights axed, diverted as India-Pakistan tensions soar

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An Indian paramilitary force member on a rooftop near Delhi International Airport on Feb 27. Airlines flying over India and Pakistan to Europe, the Middle East and Asia were disrupted and some flights were routed through Mumbai, so that they could avoid Pakistan air space.

Islamabad

NUMEROUS flights were cancelled or diverted Wednesday after Pakistan closed its airspace and India shut airports, as soaring tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals stoked fears of a full-blown conflict.

The closures came after Pakistan said it had shot down two Indian Air Force planes in its airspace over disputed Kashmir. India said its forces shot down a Pakistani fighter jet, but also lost one of its own planes.

The air traffic disruption was affecting routes passing through the region that are popular with Western holidaymakers, with an industry body saying that a huge number of flights to South-east Asia may have to be diverted.

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Several airlines, including Emirates and Qatar Airways, have already suspended flights to Pakistan.

Etihad, flydubai, Gulf Air and SriLankan Airlines also suspended services to the country and flight tracking portals showed Singapore Airlines, British Airways and others were forced to reroute flights.

Airlines flying over India and Pakistan to Europe, the Middle East and Asia were disrupted and some flights were routed through Mumbai on India's western coast, so they could head further south and avoid Pakistan air space, an Indian government official told Reuters.

Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority and the military said the country's entire airspace had been closed, with a CAA source telling AFP that all airlines had been notified to "suspend their operations in Pakistan until further notice".

Pakistan International Airlines, the country's flag carrier, warned that "flights may be affected due to closure of Pakistan commercial air space".

In India, at least six airports were shut - Srinagar, Jammu and Leh in Kashmir and Amritsar, Chandigarh and Dehradun, and a vast area of airspace north of New Delhi was closed to civilian flights.

A map of live air traffic in the area by monitoring group Flight Radar showed almost no flights over Pakistan or in a strip of land across the border on the Indian side.

"International flights that transit between Indian and Pakistani airspace now being affected," the group said on Twitter.

India and Pakistan's ties have been under intense strain since a Feb 14 suicide bombing in Indian Kashmir that killed 40 troops.

In an effort to ease the tensions, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for talks with India warning of a catastrophe should the conflict between the nuclear-armed rivals continue to escalate. "Can we afford any miscalculation with the kind of weapons that we have and you have?" he said in a televised statement after both sides said they had shot down each other's warplanes.

"I once again invite India to come to the negotiating table," said Mr Khan, who has called for dialogue with New Delhi in the past.

"Better sense should prevail," he added, before alluding to the nuclear arsenal of both countries.

"If escalation begins from here, where will it go?" Khan also repeated the military's earlier statement that it had shot down two Indian Air Force planes, which sent tensions spiralling on Wednesday, fuelling fears of a fresh conflict between India and Pakistan.

"Today we shot down two Indian MiGs which crossed our border," he said, adding: "Pilots are with us".

India has said that just one of its planes was shot down, but that it also shot down a Pakistani fighter jet in air battles over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

The Pakistani military has denied that any of its planes were downed.

China has called on Pakistan and India on Wednesday to "exercise restraint" and seek dialogue after the latest attacks. "We hope that both India and Pakistan can exercise restraint, take initiatives that are conducive to promoting dialogue, meet halfway and make active efforts for lasting peace and stability in South Asia," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. AFP, REUTERS

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