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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Israel paralysed for second day
A stranded traveller at Ben-Gurion airport
Still no flights out of Ben-Gurion Airport

Israel was crippled for a second day by a mass public sector walkout in protest at swingeing cutbacks and the prospect of widespread layoffs.

Stock markets, airports, transport services, banks, schools and government offices remained shut, with union and government officials seeming no closer to resolving their differences.

Both sides said there were no plans to restart talks over the austerity package that is at the heart of the dispute.

After a two-year recession Israel's finances are in tatters, and Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's 11bn shekel ($2.4bn; 1.5bn) package of cutbacks has workers up in arms.

The package finally passed its first reading in the Knesset (parliament) on Wednesday.

Mr Netanyahu said he would consider changes before the second and third readings as long as the total level of cuts stayed intact.

Head to head

According to the finance ministry, it is the Histadrut, Israel's main labour federation, that is holding things up.

There is a lot of opposition to this strike
Meira, Israel

I am 100% behind Mr Peretz and the strike
Yonit, Israel

"They know all our phone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses," a ministry spokesman said.

"We want them to come back to talks, but they do not want to."

The Histadrut, though, says the government is simply not ready to talk, having - in its opinion - ripped up collective bargaining agreements in preparing the plan.

The unions were ready to talk, a spokeswoman said.

In the meantime, more than 600,000 Israelis are on strike.

Histadrut officials are meeting on Thursday evening to discuss whether they should suspend the action for Israel's Memorial and Independence Day holidays next week.

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