Spain to help 70,000 British ash cloud refugees

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The Spanish government on Monday said its airports would be used to get 70,000 stranded Britons home around the ash cloud that has paralysed European air traffic.

Spain, one of the rare European countries still running flights throughout the crisis, has proposed a similar service to France and Germany who have hundreds of thousands of passengers stuck around the world, Transport Minister Jose Blanco said.

"We are cooperating with Britain and are working to facilitate the 70,000 people from Britain who are in North America getting home through Spain," he told national radio, adding that contacts had started with France and Germany.

"We are going to give as many flight authorisations as Spain is capable of handling," he added.

All Spanish airports were open on Monday. Seventeen airports in northern and eastern Spain, including Barcelona, were closed for several hours on Sunday but reopened after the ash cloud moved away.

Spain plans to help passengers bound for Britain who arrive in the country reach ferries or boats that could take them home.

Spanish rail company Renfe will on Monday boost its service to the northern province of Cantabria from where ferries depart to Portsmouth in southern England, a spokesman for the company told AFP.

But the company's ability to help passengers get home to France was limited because of an ongoing railway strike there, he added.

"With France the situation is more difficult. We could get passengers to the border but then they will have to take the bus," the spokesman said.

"Yesterday we sold 9,000 extra tickets when compared to what is normal. But we had a problem: the French rail strike. We could have sold many more tickets if there was no strike in France."

Blanco told a news conference on Sunday that he had discussed the issue with his French counterpart Dominique Bussereau who assured him that a solution was in the works.

© 2010 AFP

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