Tourists in Spain faced idle airports, unstaffed hotels and closed museums yesterday as the country's workers staged their first general strike in eight years in the latest show of strength by European trade unions. The 24-hour strike over labour reforms by centre-right Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar shut shops and disrupted air and rail services ahead of a European Union summit in Seville, southern Spain, where nearly 100'000 people marched in searing heat. “There's no trains, no buses, no nothing. We have 40 hours of travelling ahead of us,” Aaron Taggart, 21, of Chicago, said at Seville's train station as he and a friend looked for a way to Paris to catch a flight home after a 30-day backpacking trip. Labour groups also flexed their muscles elsewhere in Europe. Greek seamen kept ferries docked in ports, German construction workers extended a four-day old strike, Croatian customs officers demanded better pay and conditions and Italian magistrates staged a one-day stoppage. Up to a third of hotel workers on Spain's Costa del Sol did not turn up for work, some airports came to a virtual standstill, beach restaurants kept their shutters down and monuments and museums were either shut or only partially open. A French couple at Seville airport said they had spent two days of their one-week holiday trying to change flights. Yesterday's action followed a day of misery for air travellers in Europe on Wednesday, when hundreds of flights were cancelled due to a strike led by French air traffic controllers over EU plans to create a unified airspace. In fresh disruptions on Thursday, a spokeswoman for London's Heathrow airport said about 100 flights to Spain, mainly by Iberia, British Airways and British Midland, were cancelled. Budget airline easyJet called off half of its 56 flights to Spain from various airports, and Germany's Frankfurt airport reported 60 flights to and from Spain were cancelled. In Spain, some tourists from Britain and Germany had been flown in early to their resorts to avoid being caught up in the nationwide stoppage, but the strike disrupted travel to Friday's Seville summit, forcing it to be put back several hours. All major car manufacturers in Spain said their plants were not working, and other industries were also halted. In Madrid's posh Serrano district, some smaller shops closed and banks did not open, but other districts appeared to be working normally. Spain's dominant telecoms operator, Telefonica, said 41 percent of its workers had taken part in the strike. Both sides claimed early victory, the government saying it had ensured Spain was running as normal and union leaders asserting they had Aznar on the ropes. More union demonstrations were planned for later in the day, in what the government -and many Spaniards -have branded a political strike rather than a protest over a new law. Spanish unions are angry over new measures which mean the unemployed will lose benefits if they refuse a job offer deemed acceptable by the government. The government, facing its first general strike in six years in office, says the reform - already in effect will spur people to find a job and will cut unemployment, which at 11.3 percent in April was the highest in the European Union. Pickets were on the streets soon after midnight, targeting Seville's wholesale market which supplies retailers. They allowed trucks in but then prevented drivers from unloading. The Interior Ministry said police had arrested 45 people for “coercive” actions, such as putting silicone in locks and smashing lights. A police officer suffered a heart attack during clashes in Madrid, while the unions protested that several of their members had been injured. Railway company RENFE reported several incidents of sabotage to trains and signals. Spain has had four previous general strikes, of varying effectiveness, since democracy was restored in 1977. The most recent, in January 1994, had about 50 percent participation.


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