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ROME (AP) _ Thousands of Italians _ from prosecutors and judges to metalworkers _ walked off their jobs Thursday to protest government plans to reform the judiciary system and labor law.

Italian prosecutors and judges staged their first strike in 11 years, claiming changes to the judiciary system proposed by Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government would curb their independence.

In Rome courts, many judges showed up but refused to work, putting up signs in their offices to explain the strike.

The National Association of Magistrates, the umbrella labor group representing the majority of Italy's 9,000 prosecutors and judges, said about 80 percent of magistrates went on strike.

The most highly charged aspect of the reform is a provision which would give parliament some power to set the agenda for prosecutors, a move magistrates claim would diminish judicial independence

Berlusconi, who has been battling his own criminal cases for years, maintains the reform is fair and necessary to speed up the country's notoriously slow judicial process. Berlusconi, a billionaire media baron, has accused prosecutors investigating him of pursuing a leftist agenda.

A separate, four-hour long walkout was held by workers in two Italian regions: Lombardy, which includes the country's financial capital, Milan, and Campania in the south, which includes Naples.

Called by Italy's largest union, the CGIL, the walkout was part of sustained efforts against the government-sponsored reform to the labor law, which would also make it easier to fire workers.

Several plants were virtually empty in both regions, with workers holding marches instead, news reports said.