About 10,000 strike over wage freeze

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Thousands of striking workers marched through the streets of an industrial town Thursday, blocking international rail traffic and chanting, 'Down with Communism!' on the third day of a protest against a government wage freeze.

As the rally began in the morning, 1,500 strikers from the state-owned TAM auto factory joined about 3,000 others from local textile and home-appliance plants in a march to the center of Maribor, an industrial city near the Yugoslav-Austrian border in the republic of Slovenia.


The number of demonstrators reached 10,000 by noon after 5,000 workers from nearby factories joined the protest.

No injuries were reported.

The strikers marched through the streets of Maribor, shouting, 'Down with Communism!' and yelling slogans of support for the late President Josip Broz Tito.

The protesters went to the town's railway station, where they gathered on the tracks around 2 p.m. and blocked international train traffic for three hours.

The strikers, who called on the Parliament to convene a special session to rescind the wage freeze ordered by the government last month, vowed to gather again Friday in Maribor's main square, a Belgrade television station reported.

The government limits, part of an austerity plan to decentralize Yugoslavia's socialist economy and encourage free enterprise, have forced many firms to cut salaries by as much as 40 percent.


The government campaign is also aimed at lowering the country's inflation rate of nearly 90 percent.

The protest began Tuesday, when the striking workers demanded a 50-percent increase in their monthly salaries in the wake of the wage freeze.

The workers also demanded that the government slash the number of factory administrators, limit the number of limousines used by factory executives and restrict their business travel.

Some strikers shook angry fists Thursday at Ivan Cuk, Maribor city premier, after the local official told the protesters that other workers had returned to their factories, state-run Belgrade Radio reported.

The Maribor trade union and the striking workers failed to work out an agreement with Slovenian republican officials late Wednesday.

The labor protest is the second major demonstration this week in Slovenia, the richest and most liberal of Yugoslavia's six republics.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people gathered Tuesday in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana to protest the arrests earlier this month of journalists Janez Jansa and David Tasic and Sgt. Maj. Ivan Borstner.

The arrests came after a military investigative judge instituted legal proceedings against the three men on charges of revealing military secrets in Mladina, the weekly newspaper of the Slovenian Youth Union.


Belgrade newspapers Thursday quoted army spokesman Col. Tomislav Ljubic as saying that acts of hostility toward military personnel have increased in Slovenia in recent weeks because of the case.

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