Italy’s three main unions are claiming a massive turnout for a nationwide strike in protest against the government’s budget for 2006. There are no official figures but there were large demonstrations in dozens of Italian cities and towns. Public services and private businesses came to a virtual halt.The stoppage was primarily against spending cuts totalling 16.5 billion euros which the government says it has had to make to reduce a budget deficit exceeding EU limits. It is the sixth general strike in Italy since Prime Minister Silvo Berlusconi took office in 2001. Government supporters say the industrial action was a political move aimed at influencing the outcome of the general election next April. Berlusconi himself dismissed it as a waste of time.