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News Wrap: U.K. Public-Sector Employees Stage National Strike

November 30, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: Public sector employees in Britain today staged their largest national strike in decades, protesting pension curbs. They walked off the job in hospitals, schools and elsewhere, although airports were less affected.

We have a report from Gary Gibbon of Independent Television News.

GARY GIBBON: On the march, tens of thousands of public sector workers — it was today a triumph or futile.

MAN: The biggest demonstration of determination and defiance this country has witnessed for almost a century. It looks like something of a damp squib.

GARY GIBBON: It didn’t bring the country to a standstill, but around 60 percent of state schools in England were shut. In Scotland, nearly all schools closed. Labor members of the Scottish Parliament came out to support civil servants on strike there.

In Cardiff, bus services were canceled. Most schools closed. Libraries and rubbish collection were affected. In Birmingham, thousands of public sector workers marched. Ambulance services were cut back to emergency only.

The government claimed that less than a third of civil servants actually went on strike, but some of them were quite senior, and they included David Cameron’s Number 10 press officers, the one who normally answers questions about strikes.

But travelers found the borders faster-moving than normal, thanks in part to a mass call-up of volunteers to stand in for striking immigration officers.

MARK SERWOTKA, Public and Commercial Services Union: The purpose of today is not to bring Britain to a halt. It’s to show the strength of feeling of millions of public sector workers.

GARY GIBBON: Unions have already discussed future strikes next year, which may take a different form, more targeted action aimed at disrupting key services.

You heard the chancellor yesterday. Do you really think he’s going to dig into his pocket and get out more money?

MAN: I hope so, but…

GARY GIBBON: Hand on heart, what do you think?

MAN: I would seriously doubt it. But we can keep fighting, and we will keep fighting.

GARY GIBBON: Whitehall sources say the government hopes it can peel away some unions from others when negotiations restart. And, tonight, the government disputed the unions’ claim that two million went on strike today, saying the real figure was much lower.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Conservative-led government also has announced new limits on public sector pay and plans for cutting thousands of additional jobs.

Britain retaliated today for Tuesday’s attack on its embassy in Iran. All Iranian diplomats were ordered to leave Britain within 48 hours. And all British diplomats in Iran were withdrawn. The twin actions came after mobs stormed the embassy compound in Tehran. They set fire to Union Jack flags and tossed documents through windows.

Police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia cleared anti-Wall Street encampments today. They arrested scores of people, but there was no violence.

Close to 1,400 police officers, some in riot gear, descended on the Occupy Los Angeles camp site outside City Hall just after midnight. They dismantled nearly 500 tents still there two days after a city deadline to clear the area.

PROTESTERS: The whole world is watching!

KWAME HOLMAN: More than 200 people were arrested for defying the order to leave, including several who had taken refuge in makeshift tree houses.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had praise for both sides.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, (D) mayor of Los Angeles: There were no major injuries to the police or to protesters. The activists’ fundamental rights were respected. The result was a peaceful and orderly conclusion to the encampment at City Hall. This was truly an exemplary operation.

MAN: Occupy Philly!

KWAME HOLMAN: A similar scene had played out hours earlier in Philadelphia; 52 were arrested there, but, again, the operation was performed largely without incident.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain gave no indication today that he’s about to drop out of the race. On Tuesday, he’d said he was reassessing his campaign after a Georgia woman claimed they had a 13-year extramarital affair. Other women have accused Cain of sexual harassment.

Today, in Ohio, the candidate said he’s getting a groundswell of positive support.

HERMAN CAIN, (R) presidential candidate: They’re attacking my character, my reputation and my name in order to try and bring me down. But, you see, I don’t believe that America is going to let that happen.

KWAME HOLMAN: Cain has denied all of the allegations.

In the elections in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood took an early lead in the first phase of voting for the powerful lower house of parliament. The Islamist group had been banned for years under President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February. The voting for the People’s Assembly will continue in stages through mid-January.

Vice President Biden today painted the U.S. pullout from Iraq as a new beginning that will benefit both countries. The vice president was in Baghdad ahead of the final U.S. troop withdrawal at year’s end. His visit also brought out Shiite protesters, chanting “No to America” and “Get Out, Biden.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Myanmar, and said she hopes the new government pursues more reforms after decades of military rule. She’s the first U.S. secretary of state to visit there in more than 50 years.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.