Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thailand: DFAT Provides Helpful Info on Victimization of Aussies, More So Than Other Governments

According to a piece in today's issue of The Phuket News, the 100 Australians who died in 2012 accounted for one in eight of the 791 deaths on foreign soil.

Greece, which boasts a large numbers of dual Australian citizens, was the next most likely destination for Australian passport holders to die, with 58 deaths.

Tragically, an Australian citizen  dies in Thailand every four days on average and hundreds others more require consular help in one form or the other.

It should be noted that DFAT is one of the most transparent foreign affairs departments of any government. 

COMMENT: Australian consular officials globally generally refer to motorbike, power-ski accidents and alcohol-related incidents as a typical issue that supports Australians abroad. Disputes over jet-ski rentals with claims of damage leading to demands for large amounts of compensation, are also a frequent occurrence

Interestingly, about a third of  the 875 incidents reported to consular officials in Thailand in 2011 happened in Phuket. 

In 2012, 146 Australians sought help after being taken to hospital in Thailand, 57 were arrested, 15 were attacked and nine reported child abduction or custody problems. 

Most arrests involved drugs, theft and assault, with Aussies often facing penalties or jail, even for seemingly minor offenses. Consular officials also investigated 82 missing person reports last year. 

To assist the Australian Department Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in keeping Australians safe abroad, consider the following:

1. Register your itinerary with DFAT @: 
https://www.orao.dfat.gov.au/orao/weborao.nsf/Homeform?Openform 

2. Go to DFAT and review the travel guidance for your travel destinations:
http:www.orao.dfat.gov.au/geo

3. Consider subscribing to international medical treatment and evacuation coverage in the event you are injured or become ill abroad, as you may be forced to pay for treatment in advance if you don't have such coverage. Normally, such cover runs no more than $8 a day. I can provide a list of providers at no cost. Contact me @: ed@sbrisksolutions.com.    

US: The Ten Worst Airports in the US if Making Connections

COMMENT: As a service to our global readers, we offer the follow link to an ABC NEWS report on the worst US airports in terms of making connections, particularly those to foreign carriers:

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/worst-airports-flight-connections/story?id=18365092

Western Europe: Questions on the Disappearance of Sarai Sierra, 33, Mother of Two

COMMENT: The more I hear about the disappearance of US tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, the more my instincts nag at me that there is something not exactly correct in the account that has been disseminated to local and international media.

As someone who has spent the better part of an entire career finding missing persons abroad, several questions have not been addressed in media accounts:

1. Why would a young mother of 33 suddenly travel alone for a two-week period without her devoted husband? How solid was their marriage?

2. Why were Turkish police only notified of Ms. Sierra's disappearance on January 25, when her family had not heard from her since January 21?

3. When was the US Consulate General in Istanbul notified that she was missing?

4. Why did she travel to Germany and The Netherlands? This has never been explained.

5. Although her husband has acknowledged to the media that he was aware of her side trips to Munich and Amsterdam and  a Dutch "tour guide" that she had been communicating with communicating with on social media, did he have no questions concerning these activities?

6. She was originally planning to travel to Istanbul with a friend. Who was the friend and why did that person not accompany her? Has the trip with the friend been corroborated?

7. Why would a young woman accustomed to NEVER being far from her cell phone and charger leave them in the hostel she was staying at?

8. Ms. Sierra has been described as a "photographer." What does that mean? 

9. If Sierra was such a serious photographer, where is/are her camera(s), which might very well produce crucial leads to her activities and movements, including her side trips to Amsterdam and Munich?

10. A close friend of Sarai Sierra's has told the media that her friend was prone to sudden fainting spells. If this is so, why in the world was Sierra traveling alone?

Clearly, there are far too many questions that need to be answered before this young traveler can be successfully found.

It has now been ten days since Ms. Sierra disappeared.    

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Afghanistan: US Department of State Omits Young Pregnant US Citizen Who Disappeared in October from Travel Warning, Due in 1/13

For the benefit of our regular readers, effective January 29, 2013, the US Department of State has released an updated travel warning for Afghanistan:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5874

COMMENT: Please review my postings of January 17, 2013, January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2012 entitled:
  • "Afghanistan: Likelihood of Finding Pregnant US Woman, Due Now, and Canadian Husband Fading" (January 17, 2013) 
  • "Afghanistan: Update on Pregnant Missing American Woman, 27, Canadian Husband, 29, Since October 2012 (January 1, 2013)
  •  "Afghanistan: Pregnant American Woman, 27, Canadian Husband Missing Since October 12" (December 31, 2012)
 It is noteworthy to point out that the Department omitted the apparent disappearance and suspected kidnapping by the Taliban of US citizen Caitlan Coleman, 27, and her Canadian husband, Josh, as not being significant enough to mention in its January 29 update of its travel warning for Afghanistan.

China: Flights Cancelled Due to Off-the-Charts Smog, A Warning to Those with Respiratory Ailments

According to The Associated Press, opaque, off-the-scale smog shrouded eastern China for the second time in about two weeks yesterday (January 29), forcing airlines to cancel flights because of poor visibility and prompting Beijing to temporarily shut factories and curtail fleets of government cars.

Street lamps and the outlines of buildings receded into a white haze as pedestrians donned face masks to guard against the caustic air. The flight cancellations stranded passengers during the first week of the country's peak, six-week period for travel surrounding the Chinese New Year, scheduled to occur on on February 10.

The US Embassy reported an hourly peak level of PM2.5 — tiny particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs — at 526 micrograms per cubic meter, or "beyond index," and more than 20 times higher than the World Health Organization's (WHO) safety levels over a 24-hour period.

More than 100 flights were canceled in the eastern city of Zhengzhou, 33 in Beijing, 20 in Qingdao and 13 in Jinan.

COMMENT: Beijing's city government ordered 103 heavily polluting factories to suspend production and told government departments and state-owned enterprises to reduce their use of cars by a third, Xinhua reported. The measures last until Thursday (January 31).

Beijing's official readings for PM2.5 were lower than the embassy's — 433 micrograms per cubic meter at one point in the afternoon— but even that level is considered "severe" and prompted the city government to advise residents to stay indoors as much as possible. 

As a cautionary tip, our regular readers are urged to consider air pollution when they make travel plans abroad, particularly if they have chronic respiratory issues (i.e. asthma, have allergies, are on daily oxygen or face other breathing issues).

A very useful link to review if you have respiratory issues is the following from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 2012 YELLOW BOOK:

http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/respiratory-infections.htm 

 


Western Europe: Update on Disappearance of Solo US Tourist Sarai Sierra, 33

COMMENT: As a follow-up to my posting of yesterday (January 29), concerning the disappearance of Sarai Sierra, 33, a solo American tourist, scant new information has been developed since yesterday, particularly considering that Turkish authorities were only notified of her disappearance on January 25, even though her family has not heard from her in over a week.

At this point, Turkish police, among Europe's finest, are playing "catch up" and pursuing all possible leads.

What remains unexplained is why the young traveler reportedly visited The Netherlands and Germany during her two-week visit to Istanbul.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Western Europe: Turkish Police Not Informed of US Tourist's Disappearance Until Jan. 25, Missing Woman Traveled to Other Countries

As a follow-up to my postings earlier today as well yesterday (January 28), Turkish media has been reporting that police in Istanbul were not informed of US tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, disappearance until January 25, which was four days after she was scheduled to return to New York City.

COMMENT: Indeed, there are many questions in this case that are short on facts: Considering that the Istanbul police were not notified of Ms. Sierra's disappearance until January 25, when was the US Consulate General in Istanbul notified of Ms. Sierra's disappearance? Earlier, on January 25 or on January 28?

One fact that has been established is that the trip to Turkey was the young mother's first trip abroad, which could influence her lack of street skills in being able to safeguard herself, particularly considering that her destination is one of the largest cities in the world, where a lot can go wrong for solo travelers.

Another lingering question is why did she choose to travel alone, considering that the original plan was for her to travel with a friend? 

According to press reports,  Ms. Sierra's husband, Steven, and brother, David Jimenez, arrived in Istanbul late on Monday (January 28). 

Reportedly, police in Istanbul have identified security camera footage that depicts Sierra eating alone in a food court of a shopping mall near the hostel where she was staying and walking around the mall, dressed in jeans, a brown leather jacket and a winter hat, her hands in her pockets. 

Another image depicts Ms. Sierra walking along a main shopping street, wearing earphones. Police did not say when the images were recorded, but according to  Turkey's HURRIYET, a local daily, the images were from January 20, the day before the tourist was scheduled to return to the US.

What cannot be explained is why the missing American made a side trip to Amsterdam from Istanbul on January 15 and then traveled on to Munich on January 16, before returning to Istanbul on January 19. 

A key question for her family is: Had Sierra mentioned these side trips to them during emails and texting communications? Also, had Sierra communicated with her family during these side trips to Germany and The Netherlands?

From a lessons-learned standpoint, Istanbul is not an ideal destination for an American who has never traveled abroad before.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.  

Turkey: Update--US Tourist, 33, Still Missing, Despite Exhaustive Search by Police, Family

COMMENT: Knowing the concern that so many of our readers have for New York City-based US citizen Sarai Sierra, 33, who disappeared in Istanbul a week ago, a review of local and international media still has not produced any leads which might suggest what may have happened to the young traveler.

Tanzania: British Tourist, 29, Killed, South African Finance Critically Injured After Being Hit by Bus

Christine Hemchie, 29, a British national, was among three people who died after being hit by a bus in an accident that involved three vehicles and several horse riders on Saturday morning (January 26). 

Two Tanzanians, Charles Mahugija, 60, and Willy Masanja, 55, both being residents of Samuye village, were also killed in the tragic accident.
 

An estimated 25 others were seriously injured, most of them spectators attracted by the British and South African horse riders passing through Isela village in Shinyanga region. 

When the bus hit the group, Ms. Hemchie died while riding with her fiance, William Arthur, 43, a South African, who was critically wounded.

COMMENT: The tourists were on a tour across the continent that started in Tunisia on the southward bound to South Africa. Before the accident, the couple had already traveled in nine African countries.

The residents killed and severely injured were cheering on the passing team of horse riders from Britain and South Africa who were on an Across-Africa mission on horseback.


Our prayers and condolences go out to the families of those killed and injured.


Costa Rica: Reasonable Doubt Results in Acquittal of US Wife of American Expat

According to The Tico Times, a murder trial that began in the Southern Zone canton of Pérez Zeledón on January 14, has resulted in the defendant, Anne Marie Patton, 42, being acquitted of the murder of her husband on January 28.

Ms. Patton had been charged with murdering her husband, John Felix Bender, who was found shot to death at the couple's luxury home, south of San José, on January 8, 2010.

Prosecutors had alleged that Ms. Patton had murdered her husband in order to steal millions of dollars worth precious jewelry.

COMMENT: Patton contended throughout the trial that her husband committed suicide because he had bipolar disorder and suffered constant episodes of depression. She said he had been treated numerous times in the US for these disorders.

Nevertheless, crime scene investigators testified that they found NO traces of gunshot residue on either Bender nor on Patton.

Prosecutor Fernando Oses stressed during his closing arguments that “with the position in which the body was found, and the path and the trajectory of the bullet, it was impossible for the victim to have shot himself.”

Based upon the limited facts available, and not knowing what form of forensic analysis was used to determine the presence of gunshot residue on either the decedent or the defendant, it appears that justice may not have been served in this case. 

Ms. Patton could have received a 25 year prison sentence if convicted.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Turkey: Solo American Tourist, 33, Mother of Two Disappears in Istanbul

According to The Associated Press, New York City-based US citizen Sarai Sierra, 33, who disappeared in Istanbul a week ago, continues to remain missing.

Although Ms. Sierra had originally planed to travel with a friend, yet the last moment she decided to travel alone when her friend was unable to leave.

Departing on January 7, the married mother of two (ages 9 and 11) has not been heard of since last week, even though she was very predictable in regularly texting her family and friends.

COMMENT: Although Istanbul police depend heavily on a network of closed-circuit television surveillance camera throughout the city of  nearly 14 million, this network has as yet produced no leads as to the young woman's whereabouts or welfare. 

As I have said so many times in the past, solo travel brings with it considerable risks, particularly in a city such as Istanbul.  If traveling alone, it is far better for solo travelers to stay in reputable, safe hotels rather than choosing hostels on the spur of the moment, as hostels bring with them their own risks.

Having served as a Regional Security Officer (RSO) at a number of US embassies abroad, I have handled countless cases of missing travelers, most of whom are found shortly after their disappearance. Sadly, most of those who disappear are found shortly after they are reported missing. 

Unfortunately, finding missing travelers is best left to professionals with experience in locating travelers who have disappeared, as it requires a an emotional detachment and methodical process of finding such persons by backtracking where they have been since their arrival.

Needless to say,  when a traveler is alone and does not keep a diary of their planned itinerary or schedule in terms of sites to see, having family members drop everything and instinctively travel to Istanbul, in this case, is not a suggested course of action. 

It is unknown WHEN or IF family members contacted the US Consulate General in Istanbul when suddenly Ms. Sierra's emails and texting first dropped off. One can only hope that it was not until her schedule return on the January 21.

According to local authorities, the American's passport and medical cards were found in her guest room, where they should not have been, in the event she had a medical emergency. 

Normally, I suggest to tourists in my SAFE FOREIGN TRAVEL workshops that all travelers make a photocopy of their passport photo page and their entry visa and carry that, in order to avoid passport theft.  

Sadly, foreign travelers disappear or turn up missing fairly frequently. Generally, it is because they have not stayed in touch with family, yet in this instance, that is not the case. 

After a period of a week, it is not positive news that Ms. Sierra remains missing. We wish she and her family well in attempting to locate her. Our prayers are with them. 

This report will be updated as new information becomes available. 

Puerto Rico: Ruling PPD Proposes Bill Prescribing Fines If Puerto Rican Flag Not Flown with That of US

Carlos Hernandez López, a legislator of Puerto Rico's ruling Popular Democratic Party (PPD) has introduced a bill in the US territory's House of Representatives that would bar raising the United States flag unless the Puerto Rican flag is raised at the same time.

The proposed bill, introduced on Friday (January 25) by the Majority Speaker, includes a first article that would “prohibit the raising of the United States flag in the absence of the flag of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico by an agency of any of the three branches of government.”

The second article states that any agency or government employee that violates said prohibition “will be guilty of administrative misdemeanor and will be fined no less that $100 and no more than $500.”


COMMENT: Considering that US federal law entitles all citizens of Puerto Rico to US passports, it seems logical to assume that the US flag would have priority, as it does in the 50 states, yet it appears that the Congressman is wanting to "make a political statement."

No doubt, the Majority Speaker's intent is to draw attention to the island's Commonwealth status, which accords it a certain amount of autonomy, even though US law has precedence.

It should also be noted that the PPD, which won the November 7 election, prefers that Puerto Rico continue as a US territory, although there are legal challenges over recent polls to that effect.

The success or failure of the law will be updated as new information becomes available.  



Saturday, January 26, 2013

New York City: Naples Lawyer Arrested for Failure to Pay $208 Restaurant Tab

An Italian attorney was arrested on Friday night (January 25) at a well-known New York City (Manhattan) for forgetting his wallet and refusing to pay his bill with the money he had at Smith & Wollensky, a well-known restaurant.

Graziano Graziussi, 43, an intoxicated attorney from Naples was eating with another person at the establishment when police were called because the patron refused to hand over $118 that he had in his pocket.

COMMENT: Normally, police are not called in most cases where a patron cannot pay his bill, but  Graziussi appeared drunk and attempted to leave the restaurant, although he offered to leave his iPhone as collateral while he went to retrieve his wallet.

Once Graziussi satisfied his restaurant bill, he was released.

The lesson-learned in this case is to always ensure you have your wallet BEFORE entering a business establishment, otherwise you might well face having an arrest record.


El Salvador: US Department of State Updates Travel Warning

COMMENT: For the benefit of our readers who travel, work or live in El Salvador, be advised that the US Department of State, effective January 23, has updated its travel warning on El Salvador. For the complete text of the warning, see below:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5871

Excerpt:

Tens of thousands of US citizens safely visit El Salvador each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work. However, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country. In 2011, El Salvador had the second highest murder rate in the world: 71 per 100,000 people (by comparison, the murder rate in Massachusetts, with a similar geographical area and population, was 2.6 per 100,000). 

In 2012, a truce between El Salvador’s two principal street gangs contributed to a decline in the homicide rate. However, the sustainability of the decline is unclear, and the truce had little impact on robbery, assaults, and other violent crimes. Most of these crimes go unsolved. 

In March 2012, as a result of an administrative review of the security situation, Peace Corps El Salvador substantially reduced the number of its volunteers in country.  
 
US citizens do not appear to be targeted based on their nationality. However, 22 US citizens have been murdered in El Salvador since January 2010. During the same time period, 230 US citizens reported having their passports stolen. Armed robberies of climbers and hikers in El Salvador’s national parks are common, and the Embassy strongly recommends engaging the services of a local guide certified by the national or local tourist authority when hiking in back country areas, even within the national parks. In 2000, the National Civilian Police (PNC) established a special tourist police force (POLITUR) to provide security and assistance to tourists, as well as protection for the cultural heritage of El Salvador. It has officers located in 19 tourist destinations. 

A majority of serious crimes are never solved; only five of the 22 murders committed against US citizens since January 2010 have resulted in convictions. The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter violent crime. The PNC is still developing into a modern and effective police force that can protect the public. While several of the PNC’s investigative units have shown great promise, routine street level patrol techniques, anti-gang, and crime suppression efforts are limited. 


Bolivia: Warning to Foreign Travelers--Choose Road Travel Very Carefully

According to The Latin American Tribune and EFE, seventeen people were killed and 30 others injured in the fourth serious accident on Bolivia’s poorly maintained roadways in a week.

Two buses collided head-on late Wednesday night (January 23) near the village of Taperas, about 310 kilometers (193 miles) east of Santa Cruz

On Monday (January 21) a rural commuter bus ran off a mountain road in La Paz province and fell 400 meters (1,311 feet) into a river, leaving 18 dead and 25 injured, most of them critically. Eleven other people are missing after witnesses said some bodies were swept away by the river's current.

More than 20 people were killed Wednesday and 30 others injured when a bus plunged into a ravine in Oruro province.

COMMENT: As most of our regular readers know all too well, Bolivia has among the most dangerous roads in the world, made worse by high mountain roads that rarely have guide posts or protected barriers.  

Drivers of local buses are often poorly paid and fatigued, given the fact that Bolivia is roughly three times the size of the US state of Montana. 

Having worked in Bolivia extensively over the years, reputable and experienced drivers should be retained through major hotels in La Paz or Santa Cruz. 

In cases where the driving distance is greater than eight hours, two drivers should be hired to ensure passenger safety. Night driving is discouraged due to poor road conditions.

Ideally, foreign visitors should endeavor to fly commercially or by reputable air charter in cases where the driving distance is longer than a day. 

 

Egypt: Land of the Pharoahs Increasingly Unpredictable, Tourism Declining, Visitors Be Wary

According to the The Guardian, fatal street clashes throughout many Egyptian cities continued today (January 25) as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, roughly two years following the 2011 revolution that deposed former President Hosni Mubarak.

According to local media, at least seven people died in Suez and 379 were injured across the country as riots broke out in Cairo's Tahrir Square and cities including Alexandria, Mahalla, and Ismailia. Police and anti-government protesters clashed nationwide bring most commerce to a standstill.

Also disconcerting is the fact at least nine female protesters were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square, suggesting that despite false promises, the New Egypt is becoming increasingly volatile for tourists. 

COMMENT: Although Mohamed Morsi may have become Egypt's first democratically-elected president, as we all know, democracies come in all forms.

If you need a current-day example, look at Hugo Chávez who turned Venezuela upside down compared to its political and economic stature seen in the early 1980s.

Unfortunately, US politicians are overly wedded to the term "democratically-elected," and incorrectly view such governments as acceptable according to Western values.

Yet, Mohamed Morsi and his loyal followers in the Muslim Brotherhood hardly can be described as "democratic."

From my perspective, I had the advantage of working in Egypt during the period 1973-2005 and witnessed Egypt in both good times and bad. 

That being said, the New Egypt has brought with it very unpredictable and perilous changes that may well in the years ahead see Egypt become a conservative Islamist state. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that may not be the case in the near term.

Seemingly, what the world does not need is another Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, where everything that is Western is banned or forbidden, including basic freedoms of expression, speech, assembly, press and religion.

The one dramatic change in the New Egypt is the continuing decline of tourism, largely as a result of visitors not knowing from one day to the next whether there will be riots in the streets that will prevent them from being tourists. Thus far, foreign tourism has declined by 22%, which is unprecedented.

Although I'm hesitant to suggest to foreign tourists to avoid Egypt, the reality is that tourists need to be prepared for the worst, including an interruption of local commerce and street protests either in support of or against the Morsi government.

All visitors should NOT travel without confirmed reservations (flights, hotels, tours, etc.) and be prepared for political changes in the streets of major cities.

Business travelers should obtain business visas if they are required and ensure that they have maximum local support during their visit, including ground transportation. 






  

   



Friday, January 25, 2013

Saipan: Habitual Offender Gets Five Years in Prison for Targeting Tourists

Following a plea agreement, Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo sentenced career criminal Michael Jordan Cabrera, 24, to five years in prison on Tuesday (January 22) who robbed local tourists in separate incidents in 2011 and 2012.

Cabrera was given credit for 330 days that he already served in jail and required to pay $180 in restitution to Ming Zhe Li, a $1,000 fine, $300 court costs, and $500 probation fees. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged Cabrera with robbery, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, and conspiracy to commit robbery.

In the second case, the OAG charged the defendant with one count of theft, one count of robbery, two counts of disturbing the peace, one count of resisting arrest, and four counts of criminal contempt.


COMMENT: Visitors to Saipan should be mindful that larceny, armed robbery, auto theft, assault and assault occur from time to time, which is why tourists should be cautious of their belongings and valuables.

That being said, with a population of 48,000 and being only 2.5 times the size of the District of Columbia, most criminals are eventually apprehended.

The US-administered Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), consists of a chain of fourteen tropical islands, which is dependent on tourism and the garment industry. Only three of the islands (Saipan, Rota and Tinian) are inhabited.

 





Thailand: Two Australian Tattoo Parlor Operators Charged with Attempted Murder in Phuket

Australian citizens John Cohen, 32, and Adam Shea, 26, both of whom ran a tattoo parlor together in Phuket, inadvertently shot and injured two German bystanders earlier this week in their attempt to shoot a Dane connected t0 organized crime known as "Dannie," presumably over a dispute concerning a motorcycle worth 300,000 baht (US$10,000).

COMMENT: Cohen and Shea now face attempted murder and firearms possession charges, which is likely to put them behind bars for many years, solely because they to failed seek police help in resolving their dispute with "Dannie."

Not only did Cohen and Shea accidentally shoot and injure two German citizens, Johann Baschenegger, 42, and Joseph Woerner, 71, both innocent bystanders, but additionally they permitted themselves to be captured on surveillance camera footage in a number of local hotels in Phuket in their search for "Dannie."

It appears that neither Cohen or Shea were particularly bashful in being linked to known criminals or in violating a number of Thai laws, including failure to obtain a proper firearms license before arming themselves and setting out to shoot "Dannie" first. 

This most recent episode of gun violence in Thailand falls on the heels of British national Stephen Ashton, 22, who was shot and killed on New Year's Eve, by a stray bullet exchanged between to rival gangs on Koh Pha-ngan, near Koh Samui.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Europe: David Cameron Offers Britons Referendum Re: Exiting EU

According to Reuters, British Prime Minister David Cameron promised on Wednesday (January 23) to give Britons a referendum choice as to whether to remain in the European Union or leave it if he wins an election in 2015. 

"It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time for us to settle this question about Britain and Europe," Cameron said. His Conservative party will campaign for the 2015 election promising to renegotiate Britain's EU membership.

Sterling fell to its lowest in nearly five months against the dollar on Wednesday as Cameron was speaking.

The response from EU partners was predictably frosty. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius quipped: "If Britain wants to leave Europe we will roll out the red carpet for you," echoing Cameron himself, who once used the same words to invite rich Frenchmen alienated by high taxes to move to Britain.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country wanted Britain to remain a full EU member, but London could not expect to pick and choose the aspects of membership it liked.

Even British business leaders warned that the prospect of years of doubt over Britain's EU membership would damage the long-term investment climate.

COMMENT: Rightly or wrongly, the Conservatives trail the opposition Labor party in opinion polls, and the coalition government is grappling with a stagnating economy as it pushes through public spending cuts to reduce Britain's mushrooming deficit.
 
It has been nearly 40 years since British voters last had a say in a referendum on Britain's membership in the EU. A 1975 vote saw just over 67% opt to stay inside the zone with nearly 33% wanting to leave it.