Pakistan national airline strike disrupts over 100 flights

KARACHI (Pakistan) – All of Pakistan International Airline’s foreign and domestic flights were suspended, and employees held strikes at airports in major cities across the country.

Pakistan’s airports plunged into chaos as employees of the national flag carrier protested the deaths of two colleagues killed while demonstrating against plans to privatise the airline.

The ongoing protests and strikes disrupted more than 100 flights during the last 24 hours, causing millions of rupees losses to the already cash-strapped and loss-generating national flag carrier.

On the second day, employees of the national flag carrier boycotted work in different cities including Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi following the death of their two colleagues in a gunfire in Karachi during a protest rally on Tuesday. The employers also offered funeral prayers of their deceased co-workers in absentia in various cities and vowed to continue their protest unless the presidential ordinance for privatisation of the PIA was withdrawn.

The strike is the latest in a months-long series of protests against the plan to sell off part of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), among companies the government has pledged to privatize under an International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal.

The grounding of flights follows the deaths of two PIA employees and injuries to several others during clashes on Tuesday with security personnel armed with water cannons, tear gas and batons near the international airport in Karachi.

The two men died of gunshot wounds, hospital officials said, though police and Pakistan’s paramilitary force have denied opening fire on the crowd of several hundred as it marched toward the Jinnah International Airport in the southern city.

PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer announced that he has resigned from his post following the death of two employees.

“From this day on, my conscience does not allow me to stay as chairman of this organization,” the emotional Jaffer said on Dunya Television. “Two people lost their lives. I don’t think anything worse than this could have happened.”

PIA Joint Action Committee (JAC) spokesman Nasrullah Khan said employees had resumed protest outside all major airports in the country and there has been no change in their demands.

It is still not clear who fired the shots in Karachi, with both police and paramilitary forces denying that they did.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed not to back down from the reform plan.

“Action will be taken against those who have gone on strike,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I believe that any concession on this will be a disservice to Pakistan.”

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