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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spain Rocked by General Strike

MADRID, Spain -- Shops closed, planes, trains and buses were cancelled and pickets clashed with police Thursday in Spain's first general strike in eight years, the latest show of strength by workers in Europe as the holiday season starts.

The 24 hour strike, expected to involve one-third of the workforce and targeting labor reforms by center-right Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, came as Europe's leaders prepared for a European Union summit in the southern city of Seville starting Friday.

Elsewhere in Europe, labor groups flexed their muscles with Greek ferries docked in ports as seamen called a second 48-hour strike to protest at government changes to the pension system.

In Germany, construction workers extended a four-day old strike to all 16 states, raising tensions in an increasingly ugly pay row. The IG Bau Union said 18,000 workers at 1,200 building sites around the country downed tools.

Croatian customs officers demanding better pay and conditions began a two-day work-to-rule, searching every car crossing the border. A 1-kilometer line of cars built up at the border with Slovenia, state news agency Hina reported.

In Spain, some tourists from Britain and Germany had been flown in early to their resorts to avoid being caught up in the nationwide stoppage, but the strike disrupted travel to the Seville summit, forcing it to be put back several hours.

The strike brought Seville's airport to a virtual standstill, with only two early outbound flights and a deserted passenger departure lounge.

All major car manufacturers in Spain said their plants were idle, and other industries were also halted. In Madrid's posh Serrano district, some smaller shops closed.

Both sides claimed early victory, the government saying it had ensured Spain was running as normal and union leaders asserting that massive participation had Aznar on the ropes.

Massive union demonstrations were planned for later in the day, in what the government -- and many Spaniards -- have branded a political strike rather than a protest over a new law.

Spanish unions are angry over new measures that mean the unemployed will lose benefits if they refuse a job offer deemed acceptable by the government.

The government, facing its first general strike, says the reform --

already in effect -- will spur people to find a job and will cut unemployment, which at 11.3 percent in April was the highest in the European Union.

Pickets were on the streets soon after midnight, targeting Seville's wholesale market which supplies retailers. They allowed trucks in but then prevented drivers from unloading.

"This strike is already a success as the fact that the government is so nervous shows. ... The ball is now in Aznar's hands," union leader Jose Maria Fidalgo told reporters.

The Interior Ministry said police had arrested 29 people for "coercive" actions, such as putting silicone in locks, while the unions protested that several of their members had been injured in clashes in Madrid.

Railway company RENFE reported several incidents of sabotage to trains and signals.

In Madrid, commuter traffic was heavy, although many workers apparently decided not to try to get to work.

Spain has had four previous general strikes, of varying effectiveness, since democracy was restored in 1977. The most recent, in January 1994, had about 50 percent participation.