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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Controllers End Hunger Strike

Air traffic controllers in several Siberian cities who monitor flights between Moscow, Central Asia and Russia's Far East suspended a hunger strike after officials agreed to negotiate their demands, Russian media reported Saturday.

The strike demanding higher wages involved at least 100 people and closed some swaths of west Siberian airspace.

The controllers suspended the protest Saturday after aviation officials in Moscow agreed to talks. They said the protest would resume on Dec. 22 if their demands are not met, NTV television reported.

Alexander Pivovarov, head of air navigation for western Siberia, told Itar-Tass "the controllers at Tolmachovevo airport in Novosibirsk decided to suspend their hunger strike because the Transportation Ministry and representatives of trade unions have worked out a procedure on how they are going to normalize the socioeconomic situation in air traffic enterprises."

Other strikers also agreed to suspend the protest, Itar-Tass said.

The strike began in the west Siberian city of Surgut with about 20 air traffic controllers protesting their 5,000 ruble ($161) monthly paychecks, which they said were below subsistence level, TVS television reported. Colleagues in other Siberian cities then joined them, beginning in Nizhnevartovsk and Khanty-Mansiisk on Wednesday. Thursday brought support from about 30 controllers in Novosibirsk and 40 workers from Salekhard, Interfax reported. Controllers in the Siberian city of Omsk also gave the protest action their backing.

TVS showed one group of about a dozen protesters in Surgut sprawling on coaches, emptying out refrigerators and receiving checkups from doctors. Others were shown drinking water mixed with medicine, TVS said. "We expect our numbers to keep growing," Stanislav Dasmanov, a Novosibirsk air traffic controller, told TVS.

The airports substituted experts from airport administration to handle control tower duties and made scheduling changes. Airspace over Surgut was closed from 2 p.m. to 7 a.m., Interfax reported.

Alexander Neradko, chief of the State Civil Aviation Service, told TVS that the situation had not endangered or disrupted air traffic. He flew to Surgut to meet with the strikers.

"We hope the efforts we are making will help bring the situation back to normal and avoid any further deterioration," he said.But officials said pay hikes were not feasible.

Anatoly Stepanov, an Omsk air traffic controller, told Itar-Tass that the 5,000 ruble wage was "an insult to workers responsible for ... the lives of people."

Strikes in post-Soviet Russia are common, particularly among government employees, who are often the lowest paid. Another strike was under way in the northwestern city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, where about 1,000 garbage collectors were protesting low wages, television reported.