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Anti-austerity strike paralyses railway traffic in Portugal

Domestic railway traffic ground to a halt in Portugal on Saturday as rail workers staged a strike against salary cuts, part of government austerity measures introduced to get international bailout funds.

“Out of 58 trains that were due to run this morning as part of minimal coverage, only six ran,” Ana Portela, a spokeswoman for the railway workers union CP, told AFP.

She said that the disruptions would continue until Sunday afternoon, though international traffic would not be affected.

Saturday is a national holiday in Portugal and “except for emergencies, to which we will respond, there is no reason” to ensure minimal service, the president of the engineers union SMAQ, Antonio Medeiros, told the Lusa news agency.

Portugal has been convulsed by strikes this year as workers demonstrate against the deep reforms and austerity measures that the government has agreed to introduce in return for international aid to avoid bankruptcy.

The nation became the third in the EU to be bailed out by international creditors last year after it negotiated a package worth 78 billion euros ($101.5 billion) from the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

On Tuesday Portugal’s lawmakers gave final approval to a 2013 budget that imposed an unprecedented austerity squeeze, including tax rises and cuts in unemployment and sick leave benefits.