Putin bans holidays for 'whining' travel officials
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday rebuked officials after bad weather brought air traffic in Moscow to a virtual standstill, telling them to forget about New Year holidays and stop whining.
The tough-talking Russian leader said all the officials in charge of transportation and relevant matters were banned from going on New Year's holidays until the situation gets back to normal.
"No vacations until special notice," Putin told a government meeting in televised remarks.
"Instead of proceeding with New Year's celebrations, everyone who is in charge of the situation should have been present on the job from the very beginning."
"There is no need to whine -- everyone needs to work," he said.
"Entire settlements remain without power, the situation is difficult on the roads and thousands of people are stranded in airports," Putin said, adding that 24,000 people remained without electricity in the Moscow region.
A bout of icy weather and freezing rain wreaked havoc in Moscow over the past days, disrupting holiday plans of thousands of air travellers in Moscow.
Scuffles broke out Tuesday at Moscow's two main airports -- Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo -- as exasperated passengers threatened to sue airlines including Russia's flag carrier Aeroflot.
Officials said the situation was getting back to normal Wednesday as flights were beginning to take off in accordance with the schedule.
President Dmitry Medvedev had earlier instructed his chief prosecutor to look into the matter.
Putin also said the country should start mass-production of de-icing fluid after it turned out that only one company in Russia currently produced the chemical.
"It's not a difficult product really," Putin said in typically cutting remarks.
Aeroflot general director Vitaly Savelyev said at the government meeting that the situation became "critical" due to torrential freezing rain -- rather than snow -- that fell on Moscow on Saturday, the first such incident in the past 23 years.
"We virtually came to a stop," he said in comments released by the government, adding that the Russian carrier was quickly running out of de-icing fluid.
"During the course of the day, our planes would get covered by a layer of ice up to five to six centimeters high in some places."
An Aeroflot spokeswoman told AFP that the company had enough de-icing fluid to last until year's end. "I hope we will cope with the situation," she added.
The office of the prosecutor general said it uncovered violations by some of Russia's top airlines, including Transaero and S7, for failing to provide stranded passengers with the services to which they are legally entitled in the case of major delays.
It said in a statement that airline representatives had been summoned to give an explanation to prosecutors.
Earlier this year the Russian government found itself in a similar predicament when an unprecedented heatwave coupled with noxious smog this past summer wiped out the country's harvest and doubled mortality rates in the capital.
The Russian authorities faced searing criticism for downplaying the health risks at the time, with critics saying Putin's government once again proved unprepared for a major calamity.
© 2010 AFP