updated 10/18/2007 2:14:29 PM ET 2007-10-18T18:14:29

Bolivian soldiers and police took control of the country’s most important airport Thursday after airport workers detained an American Airlines plane on the runway, demanding the carrier pay them landing fees in cash.

Air force troops stormed the Viru Viru airport in the city of Santa Cruz before dawn. One soldier was wounded by gunfire and police arrested three airport workers who were carrying firearms, officials said.

Outside the airport, police used tear gas against some workers trying to enter the terminal.

Viru Viru “will remain militarized until the government is certain there will be no more disturbances,” Javier Garcia, the head of civil aviation, told reporters.

The communications office of the private company that runs the airport, Sabsa, said flights in and out of the airport were running normally Thursday.

The government took over the airport after workers on Tuesday detained an American Airlines plane as it was set to take off for Miami with 140 passengers aboard. Another plane belonging to Aerolineas Argentinas was also detained.

The workers were demanding the airline pay landing fees of up to $2,000 in cash locally, rather than deposit the fees with the federal airport authority.

The airport conflict has broader political implications because Santa Cruz, a relatively wealthy city in eastern Bolivia, has chafed under the government of leftist President Evo Morales as it moves to nationalize industries and redistribute land and wealth to the country’s poor majority.

On Wednesday, American, a unit of Dallas-based AMR Corp., and Brazil’s Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA temporarily suspended service to Bolivia due to the conflict at Viru Viru.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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