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Anti-austerity strikes sweep southern Europe

Police and protesters clashed in Spain and Italy on Wednesday as millions of workers went on strike.

European Union.

MADRID/LISBON - Police and protesters clashed in Spain and Italy on Wednesday as millions of workers went on strike in organised labour's biggest Europe-wide challenge to austerity policies since the euro zone debt crisis erupted three years ago.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled, schools were shut, factories were at a standstill and trains barely ran in Spain and Portugal.

Unions held their first joint general strike and stoppages in Belgium interrupted international rail services.

Workers also protested in Greece and France against austerity policies that have taken a heavy economic toll and aggravated mass unemployment.

But the demonstrations organized by the European Trade Union Confederation seemed unlikely to force hard-pressed governments to change their cost-cutting strategies.

In Spain, 110 people were arrested, including two allegedly with material to make explosives - after confrontations at picket lines and damage to storefronts.

Riot police fired rubber bullets at protesters in central Madrid in one brief clash.

Even non-union workers jointed protests and marches.

Meanwhile, in Rome scuffles broke out between police in riot gear and demonstrators who threw stones, bottles and fireworks at police.

About 60 demonstrators were detained.