By Humphrey Carter

PALMA
THE 24-hour covert strike by Spanish air traffic controllers has cost the tourist and airline sectors hundreds of millions of euros and the political cost for an already unpopular government could be much higher.

A walkout by the controllers on Friday paralysed airports and stranded hundreds of thousands of travellers after the cabinet approved new rules regulating their hours and agreed a partial sell-off of airport authority AENA.

There were no official estimates, but newspapers said the strike may have cost the tourism industry as much as 350 million euros and airlines more than 100 million euros. “It's too early to put a figure on the cost of the disruption,” an AENA spokesman said yesterday.
But, the President of the Balearic Association of Travel Agents (Aviba) Sylvia Riera, said yesterday that her association intends to take the appropriate legal action against those responsible for causing the travel chaos to secure compensation for the heavy losses the Balearics has suffered as a result of the strike which ruined the long bank holiday for an estimated 600'000 travellers heading out of Spain and similar number which were planning to come to Spain.

The Majorcan hotel federation claimed that 200'000 were affected here while in Minorca, hoteliers have blamed the strike for reducing their bank holiday occupancy from 30 percent to just 15 percent.

Riera said that her association is not exactly sure who to take legal action against yet because the matter remains under the jurisdiction of the Guardia Civil.

Riera said that what the air traffic controllers did last week was “totally unacceptable.” The literal shut down of Spain for the best part of 24 hours has not done much for the country's global image either.
Pictures beamed around the world of soldiers taking over control towers came as an embarrassment to Zapatero, and several controllers, including those here in Palma, said they were herded back to work at gun point by the police and apparently threatened with imprisonment if they did not return to work.

Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba has however denied that guns were drawn.

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