New Zealand set for departure after Pakistan tour cancellation

New Zealand's cricket squad arrived at Islamabad airport Saturday, a day after abandoning their tour

New Zealand's cricket squad arrived at Islamabad airport Saturday, a day after abandoning their tour

AFP | Aamir QURESHI

New Zealand's cricket squad arrived at Islamabad airport Saturday, an official said, a day after abandoning their tour of Pakistan over a security alert that left the South Asian nation devastated.

The Pakistani official, who requested anonymity, said support staff were the first to be whisked away in bulletproof buses from their five-star hotel in the capital, before the players followed.

"A chartered flight came from the United Arab Emirates to collect the New Zealand squad," said the official, who added they were due to depart Saturday evening. 

The New Zealand team were due to play three ODIs and five Twenty20 internationals on the tour.

"The traffic was halted along the route, and I saw military commandos and police escorting buses to the airport," a witness told AFP.

New Zealand Cricket called off their first tour of Pakistan in 18 years just as the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

"Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from New Zealand Cricket security advisors on the ground, it has been decided the BLACKCAPS will not continue with the tour," New Zealand Cricket said in a statement.

But the country's cricket officials threw a veil of secrecy over the security threat that forced the abrupt cancellation.

 

- 'Player safety paramount' -

 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Pakistan leader Imran Khan that the team feared an attack outside the stadium, according to Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad.

In a brief public statement, Ardern said her government supported the cancellation as "player safety has to be paramount".

A New Zealand Cricket official told AFP no further comment was planned "at this juncture", and would not say if the security threat that caused the cancellation had been passed to the Pakistan Cricket Board or any other cricket-playing nation.

The side previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a suicide bombing outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 people, including 11 French naval engineers.

Pakistan, deeply frustrated by the last-minute withdrawal, has denied any security threats.

The country now faces the risk of further tour cancellations.

England and Wales Cricket Board said they will decide on their next month's tours of men's and women's teams by Sunday.

Cricket Australia spokesman said they are monitoring the situation, gathering information from security experts before deciding to tour Pakistan in February and March next year.

Australia have not toured Pakistan since 1998 over security fears.

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Source
AFP

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