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Travel Chaos in Europe

Air traffic controllers in France stage a one-day walkout and are joined by colleagues in four other countries, leaving travelers stranded in airports across the continent.

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Lufthansa cancelled most of its flights between France and Germany on Wednesday.

European air travelers faced chaos on Wednesday as a one-day strike by French air traffic controllers forced numerous flight cancellations and delays. The strike -- staged to protest a plan to unify Europe’s airspace -- was supported by controllers in Italy, Portugal, Greece and Hungary, prompting disruptions of short-haul flights across much of Europe.

Nearly 90 percent of French flights were cancelled as a result of the strike, which was timed to coincide with a debate in the European Parliament and transportation minister talks in Luxembourg about a proposal to replace national air zones with new ones based on the busiest air corridors. Unions fear this would lead to privitization.

At the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, just 264 flights out of a normal 2,000 were scheduled. While at Orly Airport, 77 out of 660 flights were set to take place.

"We can say this strike has been massively supported," Edith Tartry, a spokeswoman for French controllers, told Reuters.

At Germany’s largest airport, in Frankfurt, 76 flights were cancelled on Wednesday. And Lufthansa said it cut a total of 130 flights between Germany and France.

A blow to airline industry

The air strike´comes at a difficult time for the airline industry. "European airlines still have real difficulties," said EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio at a news conference in Luxembourg on Monday. "This is the worst possible time to be organizing a strike."

Many European airlines are still suffering from the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in New York, which cut traffic and ticket prices while security and insurance costs soared.

The European Commission’s plan to create a united airspace is aimed at reducing flight delays and ensuring better coordination between civil and military flights.

Construction strikes in Germany

The air strikes came just days after German contruction workers began a walk-out that has now spread to 11 of the country’s 16 states. IG Bau construction workers in Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, North-Rhine Westphalia and Saxony-Anhalt went on strike on Monday, seeking a 4.5 percent pay raise instead of the 3 percent offered by employers.

By Wednesday, the construction strike had spread throughout much of the country, creating the first post-war national strike in this industry. On Tuesday, more than 9,000 construction workers on 550 sites were off the job.

IG Bau leader Klaus Wiesehügel warned that the strike could last for quite some time. "I have the feeling that the employers wanted to see if we could add to our support," he said told public television broadcaster ARD. "Today we showed that we have broader support. The pressure needs to increase."

If not resolved quickly, the construction strike could present a real challenge to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s bid for re-election as he has positioned himself as an astute manager of the economy. Schröder trails conservative opponent Edmund Stoiber in voter surveys about this fall’s elections.

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