Albania’s government sends troops and police to end a strike ahead of election

Photo: EPA PM Edi Rama

Albania's government sent troops and police on 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, AP reported. 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, PM 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 on 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 parliamentary polls on 25 April.

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

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