Spanish union calls for street protests over austerity plan

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A major Spanish union called Friday for widespread street protests against socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's tough new austerity measures.

Leaders of the CCOO union "agreed on the need to organise a broad and sustained mobilisation in the streets and in businesses," it said in a statement.

It also confirmed its support for a June 2 strike by public service workers, announced Thursday by the country's other major union, the UGT.

Zapatero on Wednesday announced belt-tightening measures worth 15 billion euros over two years in a new bid to shore up Spain's public finances after stocks plunged last week over fears it could follow Greece into a debt crisis.

The plan includes a five-percent pay cut for public sector workers from June, and a pay freeze from 2011. Pensions except for the poorest will also be frozen in 2011.

The cuts are on top of a 50-billion-euro (63-billion-dollar) austerity package announced in January designed to slash public deficit to the eurozone limit of three percent of GDP by 2013 from 11.2 percent last year.

Zapatero had said just last week that he planned no additional austerity cuts.

New concerns over the health of the Spanish economy, and that of the wider eurozone, sent Madrid's stock market plunging more than five percent on Friday afternoon.

The slump followed a record increase of 14.43 percent on Monday on the news of a trillion-dollar rescue deal by the European Union and International Monetary Fund to ease the eurozone debt crisis.

The CCOO said the government "is leading the country to disaster."

It has "yielded to pressure from financial markets and delivered a blow to public workers, pensioners and the unemployed" with a plan that will "prolong the signs of recession, and consequently displace job creation as a central objective of economic activity."

Spain's unemployment has soared to more than 20 percent amid a recession that began in late 2008, when the global financial meltdown compounded a crisis in the Spanish property market, which had been a major driver for growth in the preceding years.

It only emerged in the first quarter of this year as official data showing fragile growth of 0.1 percent.

Spain's credit rating was cut by Standard and Poor's last month and it has been named along with Portugal as a possible new weak link in the eurozone after debt-laden Greece.

© 2010 AFP

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