Spanish public workers strike against government cuts

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Spain's civil servants went on strike Tuesday to protest government cuts to their salaries as part of a plan to rein in a ballooning public deficit that has rattled global financial markets.

Unions representing the country's nearly three million public workers, ranging from doctors to street cleaners, called the strike last month after the government unveiled another 15 billion euros (18 billion dollars) in spending cuts over two years.

The austerity measures -- intended to ease worries the country will need an international rescue package like the one provided to Greece earlier this year -- include average cuts this year to public workers' salaries of five percent.

They are on top of a 50-billion-euro package of spending cuts announced in January designed to slash the public deficit to the eurozone limit of three percent of gross domestic product by 2013 from 11.2 percent last year, the third largest in the eurozone behind Greece and Ireland.

The public sector strike is seen as a test of the minority government's resolve to push ahead with the austerity measures as well as a way for unions to gauge the level of support for a possible general strike for all workers.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed to push ahead with with the austerity measures despite the opposition from the unions, which are traditionally close to his Socialist Party.

"There will be no change, nor any swerving from the adopted path. We will respond to the circumstances and govern responsibly," he told a meeting of some 2,000 socialist mayors in May in the southeastern city of Elche.

Last month ratings agency Fitch cut Spain's credit rating one notch from the maximum AAA to AA+ because poor growth prospects threatened its public finances, just one month after a similar move by Standards and Poor's.

Market fears that sluggish growth and a lack of zeal on the part of the government to cut spending could cause Spain, Europe's fifth-largest economy, to follow Greece into a debt crisis has added to stock market volatility and downward pressure on the euro single currency in recent weeks.

© 2010 AFP

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