By Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Air traffic controllers at Tripoli's international airport staged a strike on Sunday that halted most flights in and out of Libya, airport workers said.
Airport staff gave differing explanations of the reason for the strike - some said it was over pay while others said it was for better equipment to improve security.
"They are striking over pay and for technical reasons," Tripoli airport director Milad Maatouq said.
"Negotiations are under way with the striking workers."
Air traffic was suspended in the late morning and the strike hit airports in other cities such as Benghazi in the east, where some flights take directions from controllers in the capital.
"The air space is virtually closed off because of this," said a worker at Benghazi airport.
A Qatar Airways plane bound for Benghazi in the early afternoon was diverted to Alexandria in Egypt. Passengers were then told it would return to Doha.
"Libyan air space is still closed," the plane's pilot said.
At Tripoli's international airport, hundreds of passengers waited in the main hall, angry that controllers had failed to give airlines the required 72-hour notice of the strike.
"I had my boarding pass, I was waiting to board and then this happens. Everything is delayed," said Libyan passenger Salah Ashour, hoping to travel to Morocco.
In December air traffic controllers walked out because they were unhappy about the appointment of new management.
Libya has been trying to return to business as usual after last year's war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. But the country remains chaotic.
On Friday, air space over Benghazi airport was closed temporarily because of anti-aircraft fire by Islamists at U.S. reconnaissance drones flying over the city, days after the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in an attack.
The closure prompted speculation the United States was deploying special forces in preparation for an attack against militants involved in the assault on the U.S. consulate.
(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Peter Graff; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Andrew Roche)