Albania sends troops, police, to end flight control strike

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s government sent troops and police Wednesday evening to clear striking air traffic controllers out of the flight control tower at the country’s one international airport in the capital, Tirana.

No injuries or arrests were reported, and it was unclear how flights might resume as the civilian air traffic controllers were not replaced by members of the military.

Defense Minister Niko Peleshi posted a video on his Facebook page showing three military police vehicles outside the tower building.

“(The airport) is a strategic object of special importance for national security,” Peleshi wrote.

Part of the airport is used by the army.

Earlier, Prime Minister Edi Rama had threatened legal action against strikers, who organized a 24-hour walkout to press for a salary increase. More than a dozen flights were canceled at Tirana International Airport as a result of the strike.

Rama threatened to fire air traffic controllers who refused to return to work Thursday — after the end of the strike.

He also accused opposition parties of backing the walkout “to stop vaccine deliveries” to the country. The country is in an electoral campaign ahead of April 25 parliamentary polls.

The strikers’ union says their pay has been cut by 62% over the past year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the same period, Albania’s air traffic has fallen by 57%, according to Infrastructure Minister Belinda Balluku.

The minister said air traffic controllers are paid $2,490 a month — five times the country’s average salary of about $500.

“A building of high security (significance) cannot stay in the hands of persons who do not operate it,” she said before the evening operation. The minister added that a flight had been scheduled to arrive later in the evening carrying supplies for the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive.

Like Rama, Balluku accused the strikers of having a political agenda.

“No one can hold the country hostage,” she said.

One of the strikers, Andel Trebicka, told local Fax News TV that he found Balluku’s remarks threatening.

“I don’t know how can I continue to work like this,” he said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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