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Puerto Rico braces for 'people's strike'

  • Story Highlights
  • One-day strike is to begin at 6 a.m. at five points in San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital
  • Noon march set to target Plaza las Americas, Caribbean's largest mall
  • Ritz Carlton in San Juan to remain open, making arrangements for guests' transport
  • Puerto Rico's jobless rate exceeds 15 percent
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(CNN) -- Labor unions called for a "people's strike" to be held on Thursday in Puerto Rico to protest widespread government cutbacks announced last March in the wake of the economic downturn.

They called for the one-day strike to begin at 6 a.m. (1000 GMT) at five points in San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital. A march will then head at noon to Plaza las Americas, a mall whose 300 stores, restaurants and banks make it the Caribbean's largest.

A telephone operator said the mall will close for the day. She said she would not participate in the protest because her children's schools will be closed by the strike and she must stay home with them.

On the Web site todopuertorico.org, strike organizers said the government is "insisting on promoting a model of development based on privatization, government cuts, the elimination of basic public services, the destruction of our cultural identity, the exclusion of small businesses ... and contempt for the environment and citizen participation in decision-making."

A receptionist at the Ritz Carlton in San Juan said the hotel would remain open and that arrangements were being made to provide guests with transportation in the event that taxi drivers join the strike.

Puerto Rico's unemployment rate exceeds 15 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.

In March, Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno outlined a plan that would cut spending on the island by $2 billion per year and slash government payrolls by as much as 10 percent to close a budget gap that exceeded $3.2 billion -- the highest per capita deficit figure in the nation.

"It's up to us to confront the bitter reality that the government is bankrupt," he said in a televised address.

"I know that this plan is painful, but we have no alternative."

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