Thousands of workers have protested in Rome and other Italian cities against planned spending cuts in the government's new budget.

The demonstrations took place on Friday alongside a nationwide strike, which has halted many transport services.

Unions say the spending cuts, especially to transport budgets, will bring more hardship in a country that has been badly affected by the global economic crisis of the last few years.

Other critics say that planned tax reforms do too little to make a difference.

Further anti-austerity protests are planned for Saturday, with unions expected to announce bigger demonstrations next week.

Deficit target

The government said its spending cuts would be good for Italy in the long run, and will to reduce the budget deficit.

"We have to work our way out of the crisis one step at a time," Prime Minister Enrico Letta said. "This is a budget that for the first time in many years does not cut health spending or social services, and above all lowers taxes." 

The budget, presented to the European Commission on Tuesday, has been met by a wave of criticism from all parties.

Many believe promises to cut payroll taxes are too timid, and that Letta lacks the political courage to take more decisive steps.

Letta and Italy's economy minister, Fabrizio Saccomanni, have stressed they would welcome budget amendments.

But the political tensions and the government's weakness could mean budget amendments for larger and unfunded tax cuts, which would pose a threat to the goal of keeping the deficit below the EU's ceiling of 3 percent.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies