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Ground crew call strike at Rio's airports on World Cup opening day

Ground crew have called a partial strike at Rio de Janeiro's two main airports. The walkout comes as the World Cup is set to open in Sao Paulo, where a subway strike was narrowly averted.

Check-in counter clerks, baggage handlers and janitorial staff at Rio's Galeao International and Santos Dumont airports are set to walk off the job for 24 hours starting at midnight on Thursday. About 20 percent of ground crew will participate in the strike, according to a union representative.

They are demanding pay raises of up to 12 percent as well as bonuses for the heightened workload during the World Cup.

The ground crew have agreed to respect a court ruling, which requires them to maintain at least 70 percent of the service at the two airports. Their partial strikes will begin just after Brazil and Croatia wrap up the opening match in Sao Paulo.

"We're Brazilian and we continue to root for Brazil, but it's our duty to fight for workers' rights," union president Rui Pessoa told the AFP news agency.

Although it is only a partial strike, Pessoa said it would still have "consequences" due to the increased air traffic during the World Cup. The airports in Rio are expected to service 1,000 flights a day. Many international travelers arrive in Brazil via Rio.

Brazil's National Civilian Aviation Agency said it was monitoring the situation and had contingency plans in place to minimize disruption.

Sao Paulo subway strike averted

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, some 1,500 subway workers voted against going back on strike on Wednesday over a pay dispute. They had suspended their strike on Monday.

"We thought that right now it's better to wait," union president Altino Prazeres said. "We get the feeling that maybe we aren't as prepared for a full confrontation with the police on the day the World Cup starts."

Thousands of soccer fans are depending on Sao Paulo's subway system to travel to Itaquerao stadium Thursday evening for the Brazil-Croatia match.

Brazil has witnessed increased unrest over the past year due to frustration at the billions of dollars invested in preparing for the Word Cup. Critics say the money would have been better spent on social services.

slk/hc (AP, AFP)

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