Strike hits Pakistan's national airline



-- A second day of a strike against Pakistan's flagship carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, ended Wednesday with police charging protesters and angry passengers at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, said Pervez George, an official with Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority.

George said a number of people were beaten as police attempted to clear the terminal and restore order.

The strike was called on Tuesday after month-long negotiations between the airline and unions representing the airline's pilots and staff ended in failure.

PIA grounded close to 60 international and domestic flights leaving thousands of frustrated passengers at Jinnah airport and Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad. The Islamabad airport was closed to passengers and PIA staff with police guarding all entrances and exits.

PIA staff called the strike demanding management reinstate five pilots who were fired, that Managing Director Pia Aijaz Haroon resign, and that a proposed code share agreement with Turkish Airlines be dropped.

Speaking to CNN, Suhail Baluch, president of the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association and head of a joint action committee representing all airline employees, said "the proposed code share agreement, which still needs to be approved by the government and regulators, would make PIA into a regional airline as opposed to international and get rid of lucrative international routes."

Furthermore, the code share agreement would cut down the number of staff because flights would use Istanbul or Ankara as their hub and use Turkish Airlines staff to fly passengers to international destinations currently offered by PIA, he said.

Haroon was appointed managing director of Pakistan International Airlines two years ago. Since then, he has been criticized over alleged corruption scandals and for the airline incurring heavy debt.

According to Baluch, "This is another example of Haroon's corruption, we have the crew and capabilities and we have been flying for the last 50 years. I don't know what is the reason behind the code share."

The joint action committee from the union flew to Islamabad Wednesday for discussions with Federal Minister Khurshid Shah, who oversees the airline.

However, no agreement was reached. Shah agreed to two of the union's demands but declined to consider removing Haroon as managing director of PIA, the union said.

Strikers have vowed to continue striking until they reach a conclusion and the managing director is removed. "We have declared today that until they kick out Haroon the strike will continue," said Baluch.

Airline spokesman Mashdood Tajwar refused to comment on the situation.