Spanish PM vows to stop repeat wildcat air strikes

9th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain's prime minister vowed Thursday to use all legal means to prevent a repeat of the 24-hour wildcat air traffic controllers' strike which shut down the country's airspace.

Air traffic controllers called in sick en masse December 3, preventing take-offs at the start of a long holiday weekend and affecting an estimated 300,000 travellers.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government forced the strikers to return the next day, declaring a 15-day state of alert and placing them under military command with the threat of jail for refusing orders.

It was the first time a state of alert had been declared since Spain turned into a democracy after the 1975 death of dictator General Francisco Franco.

"No-one, neither individually nor collectively, can take the citizens as a whole as hostages to their claims," Zapatero told parliament in a debate over his decision to declare a state of alert.

"The government will not hesitate to use, without ignoring the requirements of proportionality, all the instruments of rule of law to end situations such the one we experienced at the weekend," he said.

Zapatero said 190 air force officials had been deployed to Spain's air traffic control towers and more than 2,000 police dispatched to airports to boost security for passengers.

Air traffic controllers were in an "open rebellion" against the rule of law, he said. "It was an affront to the constitutional order and as such it had to be confronted."

Spain's airport authority AENA has opened disciplinary proceedings against 442 controllers.

Zapatero did not say whether the government planned to extend the state of alert so as to cover the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

He told reporters on Monday that the state of alert could be extended "depending on how the situation develops" in his first comments on the strike.

Centre-right daily El Mundo said Monday the government hoped to extend the state of alert for two months so as to train military personnel to take over the jobs of dismissed controllers.

© 2010 AFP

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