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Thousands stranded at Kenyan airports

Thousands of passengers have been stranded at Kenya’s main international airport after a strike caused major disruption to flights.

The military has been deployed to try to break the industrial action at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport.

The situation has now eased slightly and a few flights have taken off, but there is a long backlog of passengers.

Workers are unhappy about plans to merge the airport authority and the national airline.

Airports in Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu have also been disrupted.

The government has condemned the strike as illegal and Kenyan air force personnel have been brought in to help screen passengers.

Earlier there were clashes at Jomo Kenyatta airport between demonstrating workers and paramilitary riot police. Officers used batons and tear gas to disperse strikers, some of whom were injured.

A number of stranded passengers needed medical treatment after inhaling tear gas, according to a reporter for the AFP news agency.

A key figure in organising the strike, Kenya Aviation Workers Union Secretary-General Moss Ndiema, was arrested. A report on the privately owned Daily Nation newspaper’s website said he had been “roughed up”.

Kenya Airways says the situation is improving, with long-haul flights to Amsterdam and Mumbai having departed, others boarding and domestic flights “set to resume shortly”.

Some flights to regional destinations have been cancelled.

Frustrated passengers have complained of a lack of information and support from the authorities, with travelers waiting for hours with no update on their flights.

Others voiced anger at the use of force to break up the protest.

The BBC’s Lynne Wachira saw one man bleeding from the head, after being injured in clashes between workers and riot police.

It began at midnight local time (21:00 GMT on Tuesday). Fire engines were withdrawn from the runway, and security, check-in and baggage-handling staff also stopped working.

The unions are opposed to a plan that would see the loss-making Kenya Airways taking over the management of airports from the profit-making Kenya Airports Authority (KAA).

The aviation workers complain of unfair staff hiring, poor remuneration and that the proposed take-over would put their jobs at risk.

Transport Minister James Macharia told journalists that jobs would not be lost in the merger, and branded the workers who had caused the disruption “criminals”.

“We have identified those who were involved and action will follow shortly,” he said. -BBC

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