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EgyptAir resumes international flights

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CAIRO — Egypt's national air carrier said it will resume international flights Friday after the airline's flight attendants suspended a 12-hour strike pending negotiations to meet their grievances.

EgyptAir had grounded its international flights from Cairo since dawn due to the strike, filling terminals with grounded passengers. Flight attendants said they stopped work after repeated negotiations to improve their work conditions have failed.

Labor unrest has become common in Egypt since the popular uprising last year that toppled longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. Unions complain of rampant corruption and outdated laws, demanding the replacing of officials and the restructuring of state-run companies. An air traffic controllers' strike last year delayed flights and caused passengers to be stranded.

Hundreds of passengers crowded into the airport on Friday, some protesting the disruption of their travel plans and arguing with airport staff. Security checkpoints were set up on the road to the airport to keep passengers from swelling the number of grounded travelers in the departure halls, but some who were intent on travelling got out of their cars to avoid the roadblocks and walked to the terminals, carrying their luggage.

Tourism Minister Hesham Zaazoua turned up at the airport to calm the angry passengers and explain the standoff. Company officials said as many as 20 international flights were cancelled, but domestic flights were not affected.

EgyptAir cabin crew employees accuse the company of understaffing flights to cut costs. The attendants are also calling for an increase in their benefits and restructuring of their sector.

"We informed civil aviation officials of the strike time after they procrastinated in meeting our legitimate demands for 16 years," said Tamer el-Sioufi, a spokesman for the flight attendants.

A legal advisor to Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi met with the strikers and granted some concessions: a new sector in the airline's holding company to manage the affairs of flight attendants, and an increase of male attendants per flight to take the load off female cabin crews, said Abdel-Aziz Fadel, deputy head of EgyptAir holding company.

The attendants agreed to suspend their strike from 5 p.m. local time (3 p.m. GMT) until Sunday to enable further negotiations, Fadel said.

"EgyptAir losses from the extended strike are somewhere between $20 to $30 million amid already deteriorating business conditions," Fadel told reporters.

Roushdy Zakaria, chairman of the board of EgyptAir, told a local radio station that the company is unable to meet the financial demands of the attendants because the airline has absorbed major losses since the uprising. In the wake of the turmoil, tourism to Egypt has dropped considerably, cutting into EgyptAir's passenger volume.

Zakaria said if the financial demands of the attendants are met, that would prompt other employees of the company to demand similar treatment, straining the budget of the 80-year-old flagship airline.

Last October, air traffic controllers staged a work stoppage to demand better work conditions, causing delays of scores of flights and leaving passengers stranded for hours at Cairo's airport.