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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strike Hits 304 Airports

A hunger strike by civilian air traffic controllers spread in its third day Tuesday, and the head of the workers' union said the Transport Ministry had agreed to begin negotiations on their demands.

The strikers are demanding a 30 percent increase in their wages, which average 13,600 rubles ($427) per month according to Interfax, and are calling for the dismissal of top officials of the State Corporation of Air Traffic Controllers.

Union head Sergei Kovalyov said his organization has documents implicating the officials in misuse of funds, Interfax said.

The report also cited Kovalyov as saying that the strike had spread to 304 airports nationwide. Controllers joined the strike Tuesday in Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and Tomsk, news reports said.

Moscow's and St. Petersburg's airports remained unaffected by the strike. But NTV television reported that officials had decided to close the airport in Omsk, a region about 2,250 kilometers east of Moscow where the protest began Sunday, because of the air controllers' health. Planes normally flying over the region would be forced to change their routes, NTV reported.

After completing their work shifts, strikers proceed to waiting areas where they remain, refusing food, Kovalyov said, according to Interfax. On Monday, he warned that controllers who go without food for more than a few days would have to be taken off the job because they would be too weak to function.

Military air traffic controllers are continuing to work normally, air force spokesman Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky was quoted by Interfax as saying.

He said military controllers could not be called in to replace civilian controllers because they lack training in domestic air traffic and are unprepared for English-language radio traffic.