Arrests, injuries reported as Spanish workers strike

MADRID. March 29. KAZINFORM Huge traffic jams snarled central Madrid Thursday, as Spain's first general strike in more than a year kicked off with nine people slightly injured in demonstrations, including police officers, the Interior Ministry said.

Interior Ministry official Cristina Diaz said 58 people had been detained. The cause was not immediately clear.

Dozens of union members picketed outside the Agriculture Ministry before dawn, with dozens of riot police on hand. Picketers heckled and momentarily blocked a car trying to get into the ministry.

Spanish unions are protesting the new conservative government's labor reforms and austerity cuts.

The general strike is the first one against the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which was elected in November and took office in December, in the midst of Spain's deep economic crisis.

Spain's jobless rate is nearly 23% overall, and nearly 50% for youth. Nearly 5.3 million Spaniards are out of work.

The Socialist-leaning General Workers Union (UGT) said there was a "massive following" of the strike nationwide, with auto factories, ports, post offices and garbage collection all stopped by the industrial action.

The union also said wholesale food markets and large distribution centers for the big supermarket chains were disrupted.

The Interior Ministry said public transport was operating almost normally in Madrid and Barcelona, but in Madrid's Plaza Castilla, commuters said they waited up to two hours for public transport.

Some bus services which normally run every five minutes had service only every 30 minutes, according to a municipal bus employee who declined to give his name.

Madrid's traffic jams lasted beyond the normal rush hour, an indication that commuters who could not get public transport decided to drive in.

The last general strike, in September 2010, was against the then-Socialist government, which also had initiated austerity measures. That strike slowed industry and transport, but much of the country went to work and many analysts saw it as a kind of a draw between the government and unions.

Since then, the economic crisis has deepened.

Union protests across the nation this month and last drew large crowds, which analysts say emboldened the unions to move ahead with a general strike.

The government says the latest labor reforms are needed to bring flexibility to the workplace and to simplify the rules for employers. But unions say the effect will be to make it easier and cheaper to fire workers.

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