Air-travel strikes loom in Britain

LONDON - More than a million people face travel chaos over the Christmas and New Year's holidays as baggage handlers and check-in staff at Heathrow and Aberdeen airports announced strikes in tandem with work stoppages by British Airways cabin crews.

BA applied for an emergency court injunction yesterday to stop the 12-day strike by its workers, due to start Tuesday, and also held last-ditch talks with union leaders. Talks ended yesterday evening without news of a deal.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh has called the planned strike, which escalates a bitter dispute over job cuts, pay and working conditions, a "senseless" action that will ruin Christmas for many ordinary people. The BA walkout would likely ground most of the airline's planes at a time when it normally operates 650 flights and carries 90,000 passengers each day.

Travelers seeking alternative flights were hit yesterday with the news that baggage handlers and check-in staff at London's Heathrow and the Aberdeen airports will hold a trio of 48-hour strikes - the first also starting Tuesday.

- AP

Court employee slain in Austria

VIENNA, Austria - A drunken teacher unhappy with a judge's ruling in his divorce case returned to the courthouse yesterday and fatally shot one of its employees, authorities said.

The suspect, 57, was arrested after killing a 42-year-old mother of two young children at the district courthouse in Hollabrunn, 30 miles northwest of Vienna, said Leopold Etz of the Lower Austrian criminal police force.

Wilhelm Tschugguel, an official who oversees the court, said that the gunman came looking for the judge who had handled his case. Tschugguel said the man started screaming when he couldn't find the judge and shot the victim when she tried to calm him. Police arrested him when he returned to the courthouse minutes later.

- AP

Madagascar chief calls for elections

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar - The man who took power in Madagascar by force defied international efforts to negotiate a solution to the island nation's political crisis by appearing on national TV yesterday to issue a unilateral call for elections.

Andry Rajoelina said the prime minister would be chosen by the party that wins legislative elections that he is proposing be held March 20. That would presumably leave him president.

Rajoelina, supported by his Indian Ocean island nation's military, overthrew democratically elected President Marc Ravalomanana earlier this year after weeks of protests left dozens of people dead.

- AP

Elsewhere:

A Swedish court yesterday sentenced two North Korean diplomats to eight months in prison for trying to smuggle cigarettes into the country. The court ruled that the diplomats - a married couple - could not claim diplomatic immunity because they are not stationed in Sweden. They are based in the Russian port city of St. Petersburg.

The Mayon volcano, which has blown its top nearly 40 times in 400 years, menaced nearby residents with small eruptions of ash and lava yesterday as Philippine authorities moved more than 30,000 people to shelters in case of a larger eruption. Scientists raised the alert level on Mayon to two steps below a major eruption after ash explosions late Monday.

Cypriot authorities said they were getting help from Interpol to help them find the body of former Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, stolen from his grave last week. "We have two new leads that we are thoroughly looking into," police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said yesterday.