Thousands of workers protest in Italy

Demonstrations and strikes organized by Italy's largest labour union confederation on Friday attracted tens of thousands of workers and jobless people protesting the conservative government's handling of the economic crisis, dpa reported.

Three separate marches staged in Rome snarled traffic in the capital city's centre, where security measures for a meeting of representatives of the Group of Seven industrialized nations had already restricted mobility.

Some 700,000 people took part, organizers said.

The leftist CGIL confederation accuses Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of failing to seriously tackle Italy's current economic crisis.

Figures released Friday showed the country to be in its worst slump since 1980, with gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2008 contracting by 1.8 per cent from the previous quarter and 2.6 percent from a year earlier.

It was the third straight quarter of contraction for the eurozone's third-largest economy.

"This crisis has dimensions that have yet to be defined and we must watch and we are watching with concern," Berlusconi told a press conference.

The government has passed some measures, including aid for the ailing auto industry - carmaker Fiat is the country's largest private sector employer - in the form of a 2.56-billion-dollar consumer incentive package.

But critics, including those from the centre-left opposition, say these measures are inadequate, especially when compared to the multi- billion dollar stimulus packages and bail-outs passed in the United States, Germany and other European countries.

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