Spanish controllers refuse to answer questions over strike

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Air traffic controllers who shut down Spain's airspace in a 24-hour wildcat strike refused Thursday to answer questions by public prosecutors investigating the case.

The controllers face possible charges of sedition after they called in sick en masse December 3 in a dispute over working hours, stranding an estimated 300,000 travellers at the start of a long holiday weekend.

The government forced them to return to work the next day by declaring a 15-day state of alert, putting the military in command and threatening jail time for those who refused orders.

It was the first state of alert in Spain since the 1975 death of dictator General Francisco Franco.

The 12 controllers who were due to testify at a Madrid provincial court Thursday refused to answer questions, arguing the case should be dealt with by a military court since the government put the military in command of Spain's airspace, Madrid public prosecutor Eduardo Esteban told reporters.

Esteban said a military court had nothing to do with the case because the charges against the controllers relate to events that took place before the state of alert was declared.

"The public prosecutor's office will continue to investigate what happened on December 3rd and 4th," he added.

Under Spanish law, the controllers could face jail terms of up to eight years if they are charged and convicted of sedition.

© 2010 AFP

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