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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Berlusconi stands firm after strike
Demonstration in Rome during the strike
The unions claim the strike was a huge success
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has insisted that the country's first general strike in 20 years will not stop him pushing ahead with controversial reforms to the country's labour laws.

Millions of Italian workers heeded Tuesday's strike call, virtually bringing the country to a standstill.

We cannot leave things as they are now. Reform is needed.

Silvio Berlusconi

Huge rallies, each attended by more than 200,000 people, were held in Rome, Florence, Milan and Bologna.

But Mr Berlusconi said his mind had not been changed.

"We cannot leave things as they are now. Reform is needed," he told reporters.

However, he struck a conciliatory note, saying his government was ready to resume dialogue with the unions.

'Stronger government'

Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini told the Corriere della Sera newspaper: "A government that emerges unharmed from a demonstration the likes of which haven't been seen for 20 years is certainly a stronger will not give in."

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi insists reform is inevitable

Mr Berlusconi wants to make it easier for firms to hire and fire workers - saying that Italy's "jobs for life" culture has to change.

The strike hit rail and air transport, schools, banks and businesses.

Left-wing newspapers on Wednesday declared the strike to have been a huge success.

"Italy came to a halt," said a headline in the the left-wing Rome daily La Republicca.

And La Stampa said the strike, "which filled the main squares of Italian cities, reflected a feeling shared by many sectors of the working population."

But the pro-government Il Giornale daily newspaper declared: "The strike was not general."

Talks needed

Others appealed for a way forward through talks.

"The only thing that should happen now is something that is so simple," said an editorial in the pro-business Il Sole newspaper.

"It is the same thing that Italy's president and the president of the European Commission have said: 'Everyone has to sit around a table and talk'."

Unions said up to 13m people had joined the strike. Other estimates said the figure was probably nearer six million.

See also:

16 Apr 02 | Europe
Millions strike in Italy
16 Apr 02 | Europe
Italy's thorny labour law
16 Apr 02 | Europe
In pictures: Italy on strike
16 Apr 02 | Europe
Festive mood as Italy stops work
15 Apr 02 | Europe
Italy media on strike
15 Apr 02 | Europe
Italy's politicised strike
16 Apr 02 | Business
Flights grounded by Italian strike
25 Mar 02 | Europe
The new messiah of Italy's left
20 Mar 02 | Europe
Ghosts return to haunt Italy
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