Strike closes Italian cities

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

ITALY ground to a halt yesterday as more than a million workers took to the streets in a general strike against government plans to make deep cut s in pensions and public spending.

Italy's The biggest cities were paralysed by marches and rallies, and banks, schools and government offices were closed as public-sector workers took advantage of the opportunity for a ponte, or long weekend. Rail and air services were also seriously disrupted.

Rallies went off peacefully enough, but union leaders put the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, on notice that they were flexing their muscles and were prepared for a winter of unrest if they are not consulted on over ways to ease the austerity plan, currently being debated in parliament. This That appears unlikely, since the Mr Berlusconi's government has staked its credibility on an ambitious round of public-spending cuts to aimed at slashing slash some pounds 20bn from next year's projected pounds 70bn budget deficit.

'We want the austerity package changed. We want the measures which are destroying the pension system changed,' said Sergio Cosserati, general secretary of the CGIL, one of the three big unions. The Prime Minister was not in the country to see the scale of the protests: for himself. he left on Thursday night for an official visit to Moscow, commenting 'at least there will be one Italian at work on Friday'.