Portuguese trade unions on Thursday embarked on a 24-hour general strike against the government’s austerity policies under an international bailout programme, which they blame for recession and unemployment.

Public transport was heavily affected by the strike, with buses and trains barely operating and traffic jams reported in Lisbon and Porto. Several flights between Portugal and neighbouring Spain were cancelled.

Armenio Carlos, the leader of the main trade union confederation CGTP, said Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s austerity policies had destroyed 300,000 jobs in two years.

The strike called by the CGTP and the UGT union was the fourth general strike faced by Mr. Coelho since he became prime minister in 2011.

The government has drastically cut social spending, reformed the labour market and launched a privatization programme in agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which granted Lisbon a bailout worth 78 billion euros (101 billion dollars) in 2011.

The government is trying to trim the budget deficit to 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product from 6.4 per cent in 2012.

The economy is expected to shrink by over 2 per cent this year, while unemployment has climbed to 18 per cent.

The bailout programme has come under growing criticism even from members of Mr. Coelho’s own party, who have called for policies to foster growth and employment.

Portugal has faced constant strikes, especially in the transport sector. The protests have rarely turned violent.

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