UPDATED:Africa air traffic control strike grounds flights across region

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DAKAR, (Reuters) – An air traffic control strike grounded flights in and out of West and Central Africa , causing chaos for passengers travelling to Europe, the United States and inside the continent.

Staff at the Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA), which regulates air traffic control across 18 countries, stopped working on Friday during a dispute over working conditions and pay, defying court rulings and government bans barring them from doing so.

On Friday night, a busy one for travel, flights to and from Europe and the United States were halted, said Reuters’ reporters at Senegal’s Blaise Diagne International Airport and in the United States.

Flights inside Africa were also impacted, airlines and passengers said.

ASECNA told customers to check airline websites for updates.

“In spite of the prohibition of the strike by all the courts … the Union of Air Traffic Controllers’ Unions (USYCAA) has launched a wildcat strike,” ASECNA said on Friday.

“We have already exhausted both administrative and institutional remedies in the management of this crisis, but we have in front of us trade unionists who are stubborn to do whatever they want,” ASECNA’s head of human resources, Ceubah Guelpina, told a press conference.

The USYCAA union said in a statement that its members would cease providing services to all but “sensitive” flights until their demands are satisfied.

Paul Francois Gomis, a leader of Senegalese air traffic controllers who were on strike, said that some union members in Cameroon, Congo and the Comoros had been arrested for participating in the strike.

Air Senegal had grounded several flights as a result of the action, Reuters reporters said. The airline could not be immediately reached for comment.

Flights to the United States, Portugal and Turkey were hit, travellers said.

On Thursday, a court in Senegal suspended the call to strike by air traffic controllers in Senegal and Ivory Coast, ASECNA said.

ASECNA said it has developed a contingency plan to allow airlines to take alternative routes when certain airports are impacted by temporary staff shortages, in case the strike should drag on.

(Reporting by Bate Felix, Diadie Ba and Ngouda Dione; Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Alexander Smith, Susan Fenton and David Gregorio)

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