Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister, appealed to the strikers, Air France ground staff who are protesting against plans to cut jobs, to halt the strike, saying it could affect the future of the company, which has 5bn francs ( pounds 570m) of debt. 'I should like to remind them that all air transport companies in Europe are faced with serious difficulties.' He had 'total trust in the management of the company'. This was a fillip for Bernard Attali, Air France's chief executive, who was appointed by the previous Socialist government.
Earlier, Bernard Bosson, the Transport Minister, said the government was prepared to use force to keep the airports open. His remarks followed complete disruption of Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports on Tuesday, when strikers invaded the runways, preventing movement of all traffic. Police then used water cannon and tear-gas to drive strikers off the runways at Orly. Later, the strikers blocked motorway access roads to both airports. On Wednesday the agitation spread to some provincial airports and in Paris police moved against pickets who harassed passengers as they tried to check in. Yesterday foreign carriers, some of which had said they might lodge legal complaints against the Paris airports authority for failing to keep the runways clear, were able to operate more or less normally.
Air France operated some long-distance flights from provincial airports or from Brussels. The airline said it had cancelled 450 flights to Europe and the Middle East. Adding to the company's problems, a bomb destroyed Air France's office in Toulon. A leaflet found on the site was signed by Resistenza, a hard-line Corsican guerrilla group.
Mr Bosson reminded Air France employees of the disappearance of Pan Am in the US. 'Pan Am has vanished and, unfortunately, Air France is mortal.' The plan which has angered Air France workers involves the loss of 4,000 jobs, 3,000 of them among the lower-paid ground staff. Air France employs a total of 63,000 people.
Unions representing ground staff at Air Inter, Air France's domestic subsidiary, called a 24-hour strike for Tuesday. The centre-left Force Ouvriere union called on members working for the Aeroports de Paris airport authority to strike the same day.
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