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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 00:27 GMT
Italy's unions march ahead of strike
Trade unionists in Venice
Demonstrators rallied in several Italian cities
At least 100,000 Italian trade unionists marched in Rome on Wednesday evening, as their leaders called a one-day general strike in protest against planned labour reforms.

The big three unions, representing about 12 million members, announced that the eight-hour stoppage had been planned for 16 April.

I want to say publicly that the government is ready for dialogue

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told the unions he was prepared to open a dialogue after the strike was over.

"Now there is a general strike, but after that day, which has become symbolic for the unions, I want to say publicly that the government is ready for dialogue," he said in a television interview.

Negations between the two sides broke down completely on Monday, when ministers suggested that unions were partly to blame for the assassination of a key labour ministry official.

'Guardians of democracy'

Wednesday's demonstration was against terrorism, with protestors carrying candles and banners through the streets emblazoned with slogans such as "We are the guardians of democracy".

About 20,000 people protested in Bologna, 5,000 in Naples, 2,000 in Genoa and about 1,000 in the Sicilian town of Catane, organisers said.

Ministers said union tactics encouraged terrorism
The extreme-left wing Red Brigades claimed responsibility for the murder last week of law professor Marco Biagi, who worked on the reforms.

But government ministers said unions had created a climate that encouraged terrorism.

The accusations prompted union leaders to cancel talks aimed at preventing the strike, which were to have been held on Tuesday.

The unions are protesting against labour reforms which they claim will make it easier to sack workers.

See also:

25 Mar 02 | Europe
The new messiah of Italy's left
24 Mar 02 | Europe
Analysis: Italy's labour dilemma
23 Mar 02 | Europe
Italian unions hail rally success
21 Mar 02 | Europe
Tragedy of a death foretold
20 Mar 02 | Europe
Ghosts return to haunt Italy
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