Indonesia warns local chief who blocked airport

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - The Indonesian government has warned a district chief after he forced an eastern airport to close temporarily because he failed to get a ticket on a fully booked flight, officials said Monday.

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 on Saturday, 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 Bambang Ervan, the Transport Ministry's spokesman.

Ervan said officers blocked the runway for more than two hours by parking their vehicles on the runway.

"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."

Ervan said the issue has been resolved amicably.

Sae admitted Monday in an interview with TVOne 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 for days, and was protested by rights group.

Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi sent a written warning to Sae on Monday to ensure such an occurrence wouldn't be repeated, ministry spokesman Reydonizar Moenek said.

"We deeply regret the incident," Moenek said. "It reflects the arrogance of this government official, but we should have to be fair in addressing this case."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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