MADRID/LISBON - Millions of workers joined strikes across southern Europe on Wednesday to protest against spending cuts and tax hikes that trade unions say have brought misery and deepened the region's economic crisis.

Spanish and Portuguese workers were holding their first coordinated general strike and unions in Greece, Italy and France, Belgium also planned work stoppages or demonstrations as part of a "European Day of Action and Solidarity".

Spanish police arrested 32 people in the early hours of the morning as scuffles broke out at picket lines. Power consumption dropped 11 percent as factories shut down production lines. Portugal's trains were barely running and the metro was shut.

"We're on strike to stop these suicidal policies," said Candido Mendez, head of Spain's second-biggest labour federation, the General Workers' Union, or UGT.

International lenders and some economists say the programs of tax hikes and spending cuts are necessary for putting public finances back on a healthy track after years of overspending.

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