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Last Updated: Monday, 3 January, 2005, 15:42 GMT
German benefit protests contained
Protesters clash with police outside labour office in Berlin
The violence in Berlin was not mirrored elsewhere
German protests over unemployment benefit cuts have got off to a slow start, but 15 people have been arrested during scuffles with police in Berlin.

Organisers had called for big demonstrations in more than 50 towns and cities, but by early afternoon only about 10 were affected.

In Berlin, protesters tried to break through a police cordon around a job centre, resulting in the arrests.

Benefits for about one million jobless Germans are being reduced.

The labour reforms known as Hartz IV are aimed at cutting the number of jobless - currently 10.8% of the workforce - and boosting the economy.

The protesters - who also held big rallies last year - had threatened to force government job centres to shut down.

Police said about 60 protesters had attacked them outside the job centre in Berlin's Wedding district.

Some demonstrators earlier forced their way into a job centre in Leipzig, eastern Germany, the AFP news agency reports.

Sluggish economy

Hartz IV - the biggest overhaul of Germany's welfare system in decades - is expected to hit the long-term unemployed and the 2.7 million people who the Federal Labour Agency says have used up their benefits and now receive only minimum welfare payments.

Protesters against labour reforms in Leipzig, 16 August 2004
Eastern Germany saw a wave of welfare rallies last year
Leipzig and other east German cities last year saw big anti-Hartz IV demonstrations on Mondays - reminiscent of the rallies that brought down the former communist regime in 1989, correspondents say.

Unemployment rates are generally higher across east Germany than in western regions.

Unemployed Germans have been encouraged to take "one-euro jobs" - wages of one to two euros per hour on top of jobless benefit for public service work, such as helping in nursing homes or rubbish collection.

Critics say the unemployed will be forced into menial jobs with minimal salaries and little prospect of advancement.

The launch of Hartz IV on 1 January was hampered by computer glitches. Officials said about 130,000 people had not received their benefits on time.

The Federal Statistics Office reported however that employment rose by 128,000, or 0.3%, to 38.4 million in 2004 - the first increase in three years.

Sluggish economy hits German jobs
02 Dec 04 |  Business
German business confidence drops
25 Nov 04 |  Business
Country profile: Germany
20 Jul 04 |  Country profiles


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