Italy: general strike expected to bring traffic, services to a halt Friday

A four-hour general strike Friday was expected to bring public transport to a halt and close banks, post offices and public offices across Italy in a protest by unions of the government's proposed 2006 budget.

Hospitals were guaranteeing only emergency services, and officials warned of possible delays even among motorists as highway toll-booth operators were also joining the walkout.

The hours of the strike varied across regions: Rome's buses, trams and subways were being grounded from 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (0830-1230 GMT) while transport in Milan was scheduled to be stopped from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (1700-2100GMT).

Italy's national carrier Alitalia said it was canceling 230 flights 105 national and 125 international and trains and ferries were also expected to be canceled or delayed.

Post offices, banks and public offices were expected to be shut for all or part of the day, and school employees were scheduled to walk out for an hour, the ANSA news agency reported.

Italy's three main labor unions called the strike for Nov. 25 to protest the government's 2006 proposed budget, which includes some Ђ20 billion (US$23.4 billion) in spending cuts and revenue-raising measures to keep Italy's deficit in check. Among the proposed measures are Ђ2 billion (US$2.34 billion) of cuts in the social security costs that companies pay on their work force.

The government has already won a confidence vote in the Senate tied to the budget. The lower house is expected to vote on the budget next week. It must be approved before the end of the year.

Unions have staged several strikes during Premier Silvio Berlusconi's 4-year-old center-right government, crippling travel and public services over disputes ranging from government reform proposals to safety issues, corporate restructuring plans and contract renewals, reported AP. P.T.

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