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Italian Workers Stage General Strike Amid Austerity Debate

Demonstrators march past the Colosseum during a general strike in Rome, Italy, September 6, 2011.

Demonstrators march past the Colosseum during a general strike in Rome, Italy, September 6, 2011.

The Italian government has announced it is considering authorizing a vote of confidence in its revised austerity package, aimed at reducing the country's budget deficit and preventing a financial collapse, as workers across the country walked off their jobs.

Coalition leaders met Tuesday to discuss possible changes to the austerity plan.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has frequently used confidence votes to enforce discipline in his coalition, as it tries to reassure financial markets that it can enforce credible deficit-cutting measures. The prime minister has faced calls for his resignation in recent months by opposition leaders, who say he is politically too weak to guide the nation through its debt crisis.

A nationwide strike has put pressure on Berlusconi's government, as tens of thousands of workers took to the streets Tuesday to protest the massive austerity package.

The eight-hour general strike called by the CGIL, Italy's largest union, was expected to disrupt most forms of transportation and manufacturing across the country. The strike took place as a debate was beginning in parliament on the $65-billion austerity plan, which aims to balance the government's budget by 2013.

The measure calls for deep cuts in government spending, tax increases, a crackdown on property tax evaders and an increase in the retirement age. It is expected to be approved by the Italian Senate on Wednesday, and to pass the lower Chamber of Deputies around mid-September.

The contagion over the eurozone debt crisis has spread to Italy, prompting the European Central Bank to buy Italian bonds to hold down yields and keep borrowing costs from reaching unsustainable levels.

But yields on Italian bonds rose Monday to above 5 percent due to the chaotic manner in which the austerity package has been handled.

Berlusconi's Cabinet has revamped the package a number of times since it was first introduced last month. It has dropped a proposed special tax on high income earners, plus a cut in funding to local governments.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.