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General Strike Over Labor Reforms Paralyzes Spain

A general strike called to protest against Spanish government's labor reforms paralyzed life in the European Union member-state on Thursday, with most offices, schools and factories remaining closed through the day.

Thousands staged protest marches in capital Madrid and other Spanish cities, with some of them turning violent. While violent clashes broke out between riot police and protesters in the country's second largest city of Barcelona, minor incidents of violence were reported in Madrid.

The workers unions that organized the protest marches claimed that more than 800,000 and 900,000 people took part in the rallies staged in Barcelona and Madrid respectively, but the Spanish government furnished much lower figures.

The government also downplayed the unions' claims that 80 percent of all workers in Spain, both in the private and public sectors, participated in the industrial action, saying many services were operational across the country.

Although the strike disrupted land and air traffic across the country, public bus and rail services were kept to a minimum under an earlier deal reached between the government and unions.

Spanish authorities said they have arrested more than 175 protesters across the country, adding that at least 100 people, including dozens of police officers, were injured during the violent clashes. Nevertheless, no serious injuries have been reported so far.

Thursday's general strike came a day before the center-right government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was expected to unveil austerity measures and tax hikes of about EUR 30 billion ($40 billion) as well as labor reforms that would make it easier for businesses to sack employees and give them incentives for hiring new workers.

Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro defended the labor reforms, insisting that they were essential to bring the nation's crisis-hit economy back on the road to recovery. Denouncing the strike and insisting that his government intends to implement the reforms at any cost, he said: "The question here is not whether the strike is honored by many or few, but rather whether we get out of the crisis."

The government hopes that the new labor reforms would help in reducing the country's massive unemployment rate, which is currently the highest in the European Union at 23%.

The reforms are part of the Spanish government's efforts to prevent the country from becoming the next victim of the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Rajoy's new conservative government has indicated that it intends to revive the economy with tax breaks for companies and labor market reforms while balancing the budget with tax hikes and spending cuts.

Spain entered recession in the second quarter of 2008 amidst the global financial meltdown and the property market crisis. The EU-member nation managed to move out of recession in the first quarter of 2010. Nonetheless, the country's economy has since dwindled, threatening to take it back to a second recession in two years.

by RTT Staff Writer

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