Thousands of workers banging pots and pans protested Tuesday against government layoffs and the cancellation of a bonus payment in the largest demonstration since the ouster of Manuel Noriega.
In a protest scene reminiscent of anti-Noriega rallies, public workers called on President Guillermo Endara to scrap his government's conservative economic plan and to maintain current labor laws.The mood was hostile, but there were no outbreaks of violence.
The government - installed during the U.S. invasion in December that ousted the military ruler Noriega - plans to reform the labor code to attract more business to Panama, privatize a number of state-run companies, cut the public payroll and impose other austerity measures.
Workers are angry over the cancellation of an extra month's wages and the firing of more than 10,000 of Panama's 140,000 government employees.
Such policies, as well as discontent over Panama's 20 percent unemployment, helped swell the turnout at Tuesday's rally to between 25,000 and 40,000, according to observers.
"We are fighting for our rights as workers," said Santiago Cedeno, a government employee who would not specify his job. "We don't want another president, but we want things to get better."
Endara asked the workers to postpone the march for a week, saying he would be unable to meet with them. Some observers said Noriega supporters were behind Tuesday's protest, but marchers rejected any connection with the former military boss.