Spain May Prosecute Striking Air Controllers, Declares State of Emergency

The Spanish government declared the first state of emergency in 32 years of democracy and threatened to prosecute striking air traffic controllers who have crippled aviation in the nation unless they return to work.

More than 2,800 flights have been canceled since the wildcat strike began about 5 p.m. yesterday. Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA, Spain’s largest airline, canceled all of its flights until 6 a.m. tomorrow. British Airways Plc was among carriers that canceled or delayed flights to and from Spain.

“The controllers who are on strike will be informed in writing of their responsibilities,” Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said in a televised press conference in Madrid today. “Those who continue to disobey orders will face prosecution.”

The Spanish military is being deployed to take over the positions of hundreds of air-traffic controllers who are staging an unofficial walk after wrangling with the government since January when authorities took steps to cut their average annual pay by 40 percent.

Controllers were paid an average 334,000 euros ($450,000) in 2008, with 28 of them earning more than 700,000 euros, Industry Minister Jose Blanco told Spain’s parliament in January. The wages are the highest in Europe, according to Blanco.

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