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German defence plan prompts strike

BERLIN, Germany -- Civilian workers at German military bases have gone on strike, saying they fear half their 120,000 jobs will be cut under defence reforms.

Thousands of workers walked off their jobs to press demands for legal guarantees against layoffs that their union says could total 50,000 to 60,000.

The so-called warning strikes, lasting only a few hours, preceded new contract negotiations set for Tuesday, the Associated Press news agency said.

The civilians will step up strikes if the government refuses to address their demands, said Frank Bsirske, head of the ver.di service workers' union.

"If there is no agreement Tuesday, we can still ratchet things up a notch," he told a rally of about 300 at Strausberg outside Berlin on Monday.

Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping has proposed that many civilian tasks to be contracted out to private companies.

The union wants assurances those jobs will pay the same as those currently employed by the military.

The union has also asked that civilians forced to retire early under the reform suffer no cuts in their government pensions.

The reform plans have prompted the U.S. to complain that Germany should do more for NATO readiness, while there have been local protests against planned base closures.

Under reforms approved by parliament last year, Germany's military strength is to be cut to about 280,000 from the current level of 338,000 by 2004.

The balance will be shifted toward professional soldiers -- part of a drive to make the army more responsive to post-Cold War tasks like peacekeeping.

The reform is designed to save 1.6 billion marks ($700 million) a year by 2003 over current budget levels.

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German Defence Ministry

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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