By Humphrey Carter

THE Spanish government was due to decide at a cabinet meeting last night whether to propose that the current state of emergency, introduced on December 4 to bring a swift end to the air traffic controllers' covert strike, be extended into the New Year to prevent a repeat of air traffic chaos over the festive period.

The wildcat strike paralysed Spanish airports, in particular those here in the Balearics, and left some 600'000 passengers stranded. The government reacted by declaring a state of emergency, effectively placing the air traffic controllers under military law and threatening to jail them unless they returned to their posts.

Air traffic controllers were literally marched back to work by the Guardia Civil here in Palma because there were no military traffic controllers to occupy their posts.

The state of emergency is to remain in force until December 18. But the government is considering extending it to make sure the air controllers would not stage new work stoppages and block air traffic during the Christmas holiday period.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called last night's cabinet meeting to discuss the eventual measure, which would have to be given the green light by parliament within 48 hours.

Infrastructure Minister Jose Blanco yesterday called on parliament to support a “permanent” normalization of the air traffic, without saying how exactly that would be done.

Blanco was expected to defend the extension of the state of emergency.
He told Congress that, in his opinion, it would be “favourable” for the state of emergency into the New Year.
He said it would be in the best interests of the airlines, as we saw yesterday Ryanair is suing the Spanish unions responsible for the covert strike, the tourist industry and air passengers.

It will also prevent any further international damage being done to Spain's image because not only were hundreds of thousands of travellers trapped at Spanish airports, those heading for Spain were stranded across the globe.

The Justice and Defence Ministries, however, were reportedly opposed to the preventative use of an emergency measure which had been adopted for the first time since Spain became a democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Parliament is expected to vote on any proposed extension tomorrow.


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