Widespread flight cancellations in German strikes

BERLIN (AP) Hundreds of flights were canceled at airports across Germany on Thursday after ground crews, baggage handlers and other public workers walked off the job to press their demands for higher pay.

At Frankfurt airport alone, one of Europe's busiest, 550 takeoffs and landings were cancelled. Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline, said it had canceled 600 flights across the country, about a third of its total.

In all, workers at seven airports Frankfurt, Munich, Duesseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne, Stuttgart and Hannover participated in the strike. Most of the flights canceled were those within Europe.

Warning strikes are a common tactic used by German unions to put pressure on employers amid wage negotiations, and Thursday's walkouts come ahead of a third round of talks next week for some 2.1 million federal and municipal employees.

In addition to airports, public-service workers in preschools, hospitals, libraries, and scores of other areas took part in the one-day warning strike, Ver.di union spokesman Christoph Schmitz said.

About 104,000 people participated in the strike, the union said.

Ver.di is looking for a 100 euro ($138) monthly increase for all workers, in addition to a 3.5 percent wage increase. That would translate to an average 6.73 percent wage rise for the public sector employees, Schmitz said.

Lufthansa has been critical of the strike, saying that it would cost the airline millions of euros "even though we play no part whatsoever in this pay dispute."

"Ver.di is quite prepared to exploit non-involved parties whether individuals or companies in the pursuit of union objectives," Lufthansa spokeswoman Bettina Volkens said in a statement. "We particularly regret the fact that our customers will suffer as a result."