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Chief closes airport in ticket row

An Indonesian district chief shut down his local airport after being refused a ticket on a fully-booked flight due to land there.

Marianus Sae, chief of Ngada district in East Nusatenggara province, ordered dozens of city security officers to block the runway of Turarelo airport on Flores island with their cars, forcing a Merpati Nusantara Airlines plane to fly back to Kupang, the provincial capital.

Sae, who was in Kupang and intended to return home, had been denied a ticket for the fully booked flight, said a Transport Ministry spokesman.

"His act was unlawful and could harm the safety of flight and passengers," he said, "Airport is a vital facility that should not be disturbed for any reason."

Sae admitted that he ordered the blockade because of disappointment at the airlines' service when he was in a hurry to attend an urgent session on the budget with the local council.

"The airline has hampered my state duty as the government official, it should be a lesson for its management," he said.

Indonesia is a vast archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, making air and sea travel essential for its 240 million people.

The blockade triggered a public outcry, with many people complaining on social networks.

Home Affairs minister Gamawan Fauzi sent a written warning to Sae to ensure the blockade would not be repeated. "We deeply regret the incident," a spokesman said. "It reflects the arrogance of this government official, but we should have to be fair in addressing this case."

-AP

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