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Air Traffic Controllers Strike at New Senegal Airport, Want More Training

FILE - The main concourse of Blaise Diagne International Airport in Diass, Senegal, Dec. 6, 2017. (VOA/Seydina Aba Gueye)

Air traffic controllers in Senegal shut down the capital Dakar's newly inaugurated airport Friday, claiming they were striking to protect travelers after they received inadequate training before the facility opened this month.

The government says the new $680 million airport, which opened on Dec. 7, will help make Senegal a transport hub in West Africa and boost the country's tourism sector.

But Mame Alioune Sene, the president of the union representing the airport's air traffic controllers, said his members had called a 24-hour strike "for people's security."

"Senegal spent a lot of money on this new airport but we haven't been trained for the installations at the control tower," Sene told Reuters.

The union is also demanding increased stipends for employees' transport to the airport, which lies some 45 km (28 miles) outside the city center, Sene said.

He said the strike would be extended if the workers' terms are not met. An airport source confirmed that all flights had been grounded since midnight.

The airport is Senegal's busiest and the strike is likely to affect scheduled flights by international carriers, including Air France and Ethiopian Airlines.

A spokesman for the airport was not immediately available for comment.

Senegal, a fish and peanut exporter, is looking to take advantage of its reputation for political stability to expand tourism to its extensive Atlantic coastline.

Last year, the country launched a new national carrier, Air Senegal, which ordered two new Airbus A330 jets last month.