Italy has been hit by a four-hour general strike that has caused widespread disruption across the country. It was called by the country’s four main unions in protest over the government’s 2006 budget which they say will hit public services and damage the fragile economy.
Travel has been severely affected with train and bus services grinding to a halt in many cities. More than 200 and international flights have had to be cancelled. It is the sixth general strike in Italy since Prime Minister Silvo Berlusconi took office in 2001. His government maintains the tough 2006 budget is necessary to reduce a budget deficit exceeding EU rules. It aims to save 16.5 billion euros through a combination of spending cuts, asset sales and a crackdown on tax evasion. Government supporters accuse the left-leaning unions of being politically motivated. Berlusconi is expected to face a tough challenge from a resurgent left in a parliamentary election next April.