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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 02:18 GMT 03:18 UK
Brazil strikers claim success

By Tom Gibb
BBC Correspondent in Brazil

Striking public sector workers in Brazil have claimed success after the first day of what they have promised will be a campaign of strikes to try to derail sweeping pension reforms.

Estimates suggest between 40% and 50% of the country's 900,000 federal workers joined the strike.

But the country's president, former union boss Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva has vowed to press ahead with the reforms upon which he has staked the success of his government.

Protestors in Brasilia
Civil servants lined the streets in Brasilia
The public sector unions that organised the strike are threatening to close the government down unless the pension reforms are withdrawn from congress.

But it is not at all clear that they will have the force to do so. On the first day of the strike in the capital, Brasilia, ministries carried on working as normal as most workers turned up.

The greatest disruption appears to have been in ports, airports and at frontier posts as customs officials stopped all but essential goods from entering and leaving the country.

Lula unmoved

Lula, as the new president is known, was helped by the fact that the largest union confederation has not joined the strike, instead opting to try to negotiate changes in the reforms.

These at present will limit the size of public sector pensions, change the age of retirement and make pensions taxable.

Economists say they are essential to stop Brazil from going bankrupt.

Lula himself brushed off the strike saying he would only be worried if congress had joined in as well.

He appears to be gambling that public sector workers will gradually go back to work rather than follow union calls to deepen the strikes in coming weeks.

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