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Puerto Ricans strike over job cuts
Thousands of people fill capital's streets to protest against sackings.
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2009 21:21 GMT
The strike was announced in response to widespread sackings of government workers

Thousands of people have filled the streets of Puerto Rico's capital in a strike protesting against government move to fire thousands of workers.

Businesses, school and some official agencies in San Juan were either closed or faced disruption as the 24-hour strike took hold on Thursday.

Governor Luis Fortuno, who last month announced the firing of 17,000 public workers, appealed for calm and said the redundancies would shrink the US territory's $3.2bn budget deficit.

"Nobody supports firings, but there was no other option," he said on Thursday.

Unemployment in Puerto Rico, which has a population of nearly four million, was 15.8 per cent in August, higher than any US state.

Traffic blocked

The Caribbean island, which is home to several petrochemical, pharmaceutical and technology companies, has been in recession for more than three years.

Police guarded government buildings in San Juan as protesters headed to the Hato Rey financial district near Plaza Las Americas, the Caribbean's largest mall.

The mall, with 300 stores and more than 10,000 employees, shut its doors, along with other businesses and private schools in the area.

Some traffic routes were blocked by protesters in early morning protests and many streets were empty as people decided to stay at home for the duration of the strike.

Fortuno has said that the job cuts will prevent the country's bond rating from being downgraded to non-investment grade and that the firings will lead to a cut in government spending by $2bn a year.

He has argued that a credit downgrade would cause more harm to the economy and lead to job cuts far in excess of those made in the public sector.
 
The government has passed a series of spending cuts and recruitment freezes, and has imposed temporary taxes.

It has also sunk money into public infrastructure investment and low-cost financing to help boost the economy, which shrank a record 5.5 per cent in the 2009 fiscal year that ended June 30.

Source:
Agencies
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