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Uruguayan workers strike for pay hikes, against U.S. trade deal

International Herald Tribune

Uruguayan workers strike for pay hikes, against U.S. trade deal

The Associated Press

21 September 2006

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay Labor groups demanding higher wages and an end to Uruguayan efforts for a trade deal with Washington walked off the job for four hours on Thursday, though public transport ran normally and shops and offices stayed open.

No violence was reported as about 1,000 people rallied outside government ministries in the capital of Montevideo, but the strike underscored growing union unease over leftist President Tabare Vazquez’s overtures to the United States, which have angered hard-liners in his ruling coalition.

Labor leader Juan Castillo said at the demonstration that any commercial agreement with Washington - free trade or not - would be "an attack on the sovereignty of our country."

The unrest comes amid other protests in Uruguay, including a strike that forced rural dairy farmers to pour out thousands of liters (quarts) of milk after they were unable to transport it to processing plants.

Vazquez’s government is mulling a free trade deal with the United States to propel long-term growth in the South American nation of 3.4 million people. The two countries have signed an investment treaty that some consider an initial step toward greater trade.

U.S. and Uruguayan officials have met to review free trade agreements Washington has signed with other countries but have not yet officially launched any negotiations.

Vazquez also has sounded out fellow leaders from the South American trade bloc Mercosur on the possibility of creating "extra-zonal" trade accords.

Mercosur generally discourages bilateral trade negotiations with countries outside the pact, though exceptions have been made, including a free trade deal struck in recent years between Uruguay and Mexico.