The Portuguese staged a crippling general strike Wednesday in protest of unpopular spending cuts which the government says will save the debt-crippled country from financial ruin.
AFP - Portugal ground to a halt Wednesday as unions staged the country's first general strike in more than two decades to protest spending cuts that the government says are vital to avoid financial disaster.
Both public and private sector workers joined the one-day strike, which follows similar stoppages in other troubled euro economies such as Greece and France, as governments are forced into unpopular cost-cutting programmes.
The transport sector was crippled by the stoppage with no flights taking off or landing at any airport. More than three-quarters of train services were cancelled and 60 percent of bus services were also scrapped, operators said.
Lisbon's metro system was also closed for the day while the capital's ferries stayed in their docking berths.
The strike, the first time since 1988 that private and public sector workers have come together, also hit banks, media and petrol deliveries.
Union leaders said the strike had had a "massive impact" on the private sector, in particular on the auto sector with less than 10 percent of the workforce turning up at Volkswagen's Autoeuropa plant near the northern city of Porto.
"The mobilisation of workers is enormous," said Manuel Carvalho da Silva, the head of the major CGTP syndicate.
The strike began on the stroke of midnight with union members setting up picket lines across the country, including outside Lisbon's international airport.
Scuffles broke out between police and union activists during a picket outside a sorting office in Lisbon, although no charges were filed.
The unions' anger has been stoked by government plans for a drastic round of spending cuts and tax rises, worth some five billion euros (6.85 billion dollars) which are currently being pushed through parliament.
The package of cuts is intended to reduce the deficit from 7.3 percent of GDP to 4.6 percent next year in a bid to quell growing international unease over the state of its finances.
Portugal's main opposition party said on Tuesday it would not block the government's 2011 budget, paving the way for its adoption on Friday.
But the unions say the cuts are intolerable, particularly from a Socialist government led by Prime Minister Jose Socrates.
"It is unacceptable that workers are making all the sacrifices," said unionist Joao Proenca.
"We cannot accept that the first, second and third priority of Portugal is the deficit," said Proenca, referring to the country's 10.9 percent unemployment rate, an all-time high.
Portuguese bond yields rose to 6.636 percent from 6.523 percent on Tuesday amid growing concerns over the country's deficit-reduction efforts.
The government on Monday announced that spending had actually increased by 2.8 percent through October on a yearly comparison, raising the deficit to 11.9 billion euros.
Socrates has rejected suggestions that his country is next in line after Ireland to receive an European Union bailout, saying that Portugal did not need financial aid.
The situation is even affecting the country's priesthood.
The archbishop of Braga has called on priests in his northern diocese to donate a month's wages to people suffering in the crisis.
"We live in extremely serious times. We cannot ignore this and must show a concrete love for the people," Archbishop Jorge Ortega said in a letter to priests.
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