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Spain unions threaten strike over pension reform

Source: Reuters - Sun 19th Dec 2010

Spanish unions staged marches across the country on Saturday to protest at austerity measures and threatened another general strike if the government does not back down on plans to raise the retirement age.

Unions, which held a general strike on Sept. 29, are upset over the government's plans to extend the retirement age to 67 from 65 as it steps up reforms to calm market fears over its finances. "Sixty-seven marks the boundary for an agreement or not ... (if the plan goes ahead) there will be a general strike and it will be in January," Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, the leader of Spain's largest union CCOO, said in Madrid.

Thousands of people braved the cold in Madrid as part of a series of peaceful demonstrations against state spending cuts, reformed labour laws and other measures to trim a high deficit.

But the unions have struggled to garner broad public support, and on Friday Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pledged to move ahead with pension reforms despite opposition from unions and some political parties.

Spain, the fourth largest economy in the euro zone, is under intense scrutiny from international markets which are betting on whether it will be forced to apply for a European Union bailout after Ireland was given 85 billion euros in November.

Even though Spain has cut spending and promised more reforms, Moody's put the country on review for a possible downgrade, warning on Wednesday that high debt levels at banks and regional governments could cause financial problems.

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