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Latvia and other European states hit by worker unrest

  Latvia’s agriculture minister quit on Tuesday amid protests by farmers over falling incomes while Germany, Britain and Greece were also hit by unrest as workers felt the pain of the global economic downturn.

Martins Roze’s decision to resign came after farmers protested outside his ministry building and blocked one of Riga’s main thoroughfares to press claims for more aid to offset falling rural sector incomes. The government of the small Baltic nation has been hit by squabbles among its four parties and, beset by discontent over the financial crisis and charges of corruption, faces a no confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday.

The economy is on the slide and last year Latvia needed a €7.5 billion rescue from the International Monetary Fund, European Union and others. “I have handed in my resignation letter to the prime minister. I told him about it during the government meeting, that is my decision,” Roze told LTV national public television.

In Germany, strikes by thousands of public sector workers who are demanding more pay brought public transport to a halt in 10 cities across Bavaria. Schools and hospitals also suffered walk-outs in northern Germany, service sector union Ver.di said.

Local authorities and schools were affected in the east of the country, said Verdi, which is leading negotiations for a raise of 8% for some 700,000 employees of federal states. Ver.di said it would ballot its members on whether to hold larger-scale strikes if the states did not table a pay offer at a negotiating meeting scheduled for mid-February in Potsdam.

FOREIGN WORKERS

In Britain, trade unions asked the government to tighten the law on employment of foreign workers after Britons fearing job losses staged protests at energy plants across the country. Hundreds of contractors at the Lindsey oil refinery in eastern England, owned by France’s Total, walked out again in a protest that began last week. Workers staged sympathy strikes at other energy facilities across Britain.

They are angry that Italian and Portuguese workers have been brought in to help build a new unit at Lindsey, Britain’s third largest refinery, after Total awarded a contract to an Italian company. Unions argue that Britons are losing out because of a botched interpretation of a European Union directive into British law.

Greek farmers demanding compensation for low prices, meanwhile, clashed with police at Piraeus port for a second day, but they agreed to return home after authorities refused to let them march to the capital. Riot police fired teargas to disperse hundreds of farmers who arrived from the island of Crete on Monday, demanding €100 million ($128 million) in government subsidies.

The farmers, who say they are not covered by a €500 million package which halted national protests last week, tried to break a police blockade to take their protest to the Agriculture Ministry in Athens, some 5 km (3 miles) away. They agreed to return home, after holding talks with Agriculture Ministry officials, provided that riot police withdrew from the port.

“This doesn’t mean our struggle ends here. We’ll continue in Crete. We want equal treatment with other farmers in Greece,” said Giorgos Goniotakis, one of their representatives. (Reuters)