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Volcano cloud briefly closes north German airspace

An ash cloud from Iceland briefly forced the closure of several north German airports on Wednesday, including Hamburg and Berlin, even as the Grimsvoetn volcano appeared to stop erupting.

The cloud is the second from an Icelandic volcano in barely a year to disrupt European air traffic and air traffic controllers said they expected 700 flights to be cancelled across Germany alone on Wednesday.

Airports in northern Germany, including those of Hamburg, Bremen, Sylt, Rostock, and Berlin, were all closed for several hours Wednesday morning as the cloud moved south after crossing the North Sea.

But German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer later announced that the cloud "is moving to the northeast and airports will reopen sooner than expected."

Meanwhile, in good news for travellers, geologists in Iceland said that activity at the Grimsvoetn volcano appeared to be over, at least for the time being, and the ash plume at the site of the eruption had almost disappeared.

"There has been no activity since about 0200 GMT this morning," Sigthrudur Armannsdottir of the Icelandic Meteorological Office said Wednesday, while adding that "it's too soon to say the eruption is (completely) over."

The volcano, the most active in Iceland, begun erupting on Saturday, sending a plume of smoke and ash 20 kilometres (12 miles) into the sky.

Air traffic disruption in Germany did not affect major hubs in Frankfurt and Munich Wednesday, but Lufthansa, the country's largest air carrier, said it expected to cancel some 150 flights from cities that lie in the cloud's path.

Air safety officials said they had reopened Bremen airport at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) and Hamburg at midday (1000 GMT).

Berlin's two airports, Tegel and Schoenefeld, which closed at 11:00 am local (0900 GMT) were due to reopen at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT), they added.

Sylt in the North Sea and Rostock on the Baltic were expected to reopen in the afternoon.

On Tuesday, some 500 flights were grounded across northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as the cloud drifted by, but British airspace was reported clear Wednesday morning.

In the Netherlands, disruption was minimal Wednesday morning.

Passengers at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport "may see some flights to Germany - Hamburg, Hannover, Bremen and now Berlin being disrupted, but otherwise operations continue as normal," Dutch air traffic control spokeswoman Marjolein Wenting told AFP.

The cloud was not expected to directly affect Dutch airports on Wednesday or Thursday, she added.

Further east, Denmark, which Tuesday had closed a small area of its airspace because of the cloud, said the situation had since returned to normal.

"The latest readings have shown there is no longer a concentration of ash in Danish airspace, allowing us to fully reopen it", Camilla Hegnsborg, a spokeswoman for air traffic control Naviair told AFP.

Airspace over parts of the North Sea remained closed however, while Denmark, which is responsible for Greenland's airspace, said it had also ordered the closing of several areas surrounding it.

In France, civil aviation chief Patrick Gandil said Wednesday French airspace would not be closed.

"All our airports will remain open," he said, adding that the G8 summit which was due to start Thursday in the northern seaside resort of Deauville "will not be impacted".

Around 700 were expected to be cancelled in Germany because of the cloud, European air traffic controllers said Wednesday.

Many airlines, which suffered financially from last year's shutdown, say authorities are exaggerating the danger posed by the cloud.

Just over a year ago, ash spewing from another volcano, Eyjafjoell, caused the biggest aerial shutdown in Europe since World War II, affecting more than 100,000 flights and eight million passengers.