Portuguese Strike Against Austerity

Hundreds of Portuguese workers brought the country to a near standstill on Wednesday as they stage a 24-hour nationwide strike in protest against the Socialist government's austerity measures.

Portugal, seen to be next country in Europe to need a bailout after Greece and Ireland, aims to cut its budget deficit from 7.3% to 4.6% next year. The government plans to achieve the target via measures such as wage cuts and tax hikes.

According to the European Union statistical agency, Portugal's budget deficit was 9.3% of gross domestic product in 2009. The country had a debt of 76.1% of GDP. EU rules allow a maximum deficit of 3% of GDP and a debt of 60%.

Unions fear the government's austerity measures may lead to job cuts and a severe squeeze in income.

It is for the first time in more than 20 years that the country's main unions UGT and CGTP have joined together. Both public and private sector workers are participating in the strike, which came two days before the Portuguese parliament is to vote on an austerity budget.

The strike hit the country's services sector, media and fuel supplies. It also paralyzed all ways of transportation. Hundreds of flights were canceled and ports halted operations.

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