Stranded passengers chant obscenities in Madrid airport

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Thousands of furious passengers crowded Madrid's Barajas airport Friday, some crying "shameless" as a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers stranded their long-weekend holiday plans.

Passengers spread across the airport floor, some with sandwiches, as babies wailed, and children ran about playing. Crowds queued up at airline counters including hundreds just at Ryanair.

Many filled out complaint forms.

One group of passengers chanted "shameless" and obscenities directed at the striking controllers.

"This is insulting. We live in a Third World country. We have incompetent controllers and an incompetent government," said 37-year-old lawyer Laura Torre, stuck in Madrid while trying to reach Lanzarote with her husband.

A 24-year-old Briton, Shona Walker, said she had spent from Sunday to Wednesday unable to leave Edinburgh for Madrid because of bad weather. Now she was unable to leave Madrid to get back home.

"We don't know what is going to happen," she said.

Camilo Hernando, a 45-year-old lawyer stuck in Barajas with his wife and hoping to get to London, accused both the air traffic controllers and the government.

"There are two to blame: the controllers and a weak and fainthearted government which is being blackmailed and has not taken preventative measures for conflicts which have occurred before," he said.

Air traffic controllers called in sick at airports around Spain, later shutting down most of Spain's airspace and prompting the government to send in the military to take over.

In July, many air traffic controllers in Barcelona had also called in sick, leading to delays.

"We are surprised the airport has no contingency plan, a plan B," said Chilean engineer Leonidas Henriquez.

"It does not look good for Spain as a developed country," he said.

London teacher Jeremy Anderson, 30, said his planned 10-day Antarctic cruise was at risk. "It is not giving me a good impression of Spain. All it is doing is annoying me," he said.

Passengers complained that airlines were ignoring their needs because the strikers were from the airport operator AENA.

"The airlines are washing their hands of it and AENA does not have the capacity or the organization to tackle the situation, said 36-year-old Erik Nordgarrd, trying to get to Buenos Aires for a vacation.

© 2010 AFP

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