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Strikes held to protest Gov’t reforms in Hungary

In Hungary several trade unions joined a nationwide strike appeal issued by umbrella trade union organization Liga on Wednesday, including teachers’ union PDSZ and electricity distributors Elmű and Démász, the state news agency reported.

More than half a dozen groups also organized roadblock demonstrations throughout the country, joining the initiative to protest the government’s health-care and pension reforms and its plan to close down 38 spur railway lines. Teachers’ unions said 2,500 teachers at 150 schools struck in some form at pre-schools, elementary and secondary schools alike with each work stoppage lasting between two and six hours. Meanwhile, drivers parked their cars in traffic lanes in various parts of the country to force cars to detour around them, or used other methods of partially obstructing traffic. Most of the road closures ended by 3:00 p.m. local time, national police headquarters reported. Employees of Budapest electricity distributor Elmű held a strike between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., when capacity dropped by 5MW at each of its three power plants, but neither clients nor the company was affected, HR director Iván Maticsek told reporters. Some 40% of employees at south Hungary’s power distributor Démász struck between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. local time.

Clashes erupted briefly at one rally near Budapest’s Kossuth Square outside parliament after protesters refused a police order to disperse, but there were no immediate reports of injury or arrests. All train services in Budapest, the capital, were canceled Wednesday morning, as were numerous train and bus lines across the country. The rail strike lasted six hours before services began to return to normal. Work stoppages were also held at some schools, electricity plants and Budapest’s Ferihegy airport.

The government said the strike had caused only minimal disruptions, claiming that most of the members of the different unions which supported the work stoppage showed up at work. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and his governing coalition have began introducing plans for major reforms in the health and pension sectors and already have shut down dozens of unprofitable railway lines.

The planned switch from a state-administered health insurance system to private insurers has drawn the biggest opposition although final details of the plan are still being discussed in parliament. Opponents, including the Hungarian Chamber of Doctors, say private health insurers, by seeking to make profits in the sector, would break with a long-standing tradition of “social solidarity” and would leave the poor and those already suffering from health problems without adequate coverage. (people.com.cn, ap)