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Workers Protest Sabena Bankruptcy

November 9, 2001

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Flights were leaving Brussels International Airport normally Friday as police stopped workers from the bankrupt Sabena airline from repeating a blockade of the departure terminal, which had prevented passengers reaching their planes.

Police were allowing only ticket-holding passengers and airport staff into the airport and non-Sabena flights were leaving on schedule, said airport spokesman Jan Van der Cruysse.

Several hundred Sabena workers blocked access to departure gates Thursday afternoon to protest the collapse of the carrier and demand a better government compensation package for thousands thrown out of work.

They ended the protest shortly before midnight under threat of legal action which could have led to each protester receiving a fine of more than $5,000.

Following the collapse of Sabena on Tuesday, the government plans to create a new, smaller airline based around the failed carrier’s regional subsidiary Delta Air Transport, or DAT, which would focus on European flights and some destinations in the United States and Africa.

Wilfried Remans, spokesman for the airline, refused to confirm media reports that the new airline could start flying Friday. ``I cannot speculate on the timing of operations,″ he said.

DAT is to be funded with $180 million from a consortium of 12 Belgian banks, other businesses, and the country’s three regional governments. The federal government said Thursday the new airline should provide employment for about half of Sabena’s 12,000 employees.

Meanwhile, Brussels-based airline Virgin Express was continuing talks with the Belgian government to take over some Sabena assets, although aviation analysts doubted if the budget carrier would be willing to invest heavily in the operation.

Like other airlines, Virgin is already increasing flights out of Brussels, filling gaps left by Sabena. From Nov. 12 it will start on new routes to Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland and the Swedish cities of Stockholm and Goteborg.

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