BELGRADE, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- Tens of thousands of workers from all over Slovenia staged a mass protest rally in the capital Ljubljana on Saturday to call for higher wages and greater equality between the rich and poor in the tiny former Yugoslav republic.
Police said that about 15,000 protesters arrived in the capital by bus from all over the country, while organizers estimated that the turnout was 70,000 people.
The protesters wearing red bibs converged on one of Ljubljana's main squares, where heads of all six trade union associations urged the employers, who have so far refused to budge on wage demands, to heed the calls for change.
Addressing the crowd, union leaders repeated the threat of a general strike if no progress was made in the talks with employers on wage increases.
"We hope that the employers will come to their senses. If there is no progress in negotiations, we will be forced to stage a general strike," said Dusan Semolic of the ZSSS, the largest trade union in Slovenia, "this rally is the last warning for the employers."
The protesters were joined by representatives of students and pensioners. They walked down Ljubljana carrying banners which condemned employers' policy and salaries which lag behind inflation and living costs.
Unions demand a minimum 3.6 percent salary increase. The average monthly salary in Slovenia is a net 820 euros (some 1205 U.S. dollars). Unions claim the social differences are increasing, while pensioners' organizations say that one-fourth of pensions are below 300 euros (some 441 dollars), which is why they supported the demonstrators.
The protest was joined by some government officials and the newly elected Slovenian President Danilo Tuerk.
Tuerk called both sides to sit back at the negotiating table to work out a solution. He said he had taken part in the rally because he viewed this as an important issue and sympathized with those who had to survive on a monthly wage of less than 400 euros (588 dollars).
Among the government officials, Labor Minister Marjeta Cotman was there to show her solidarity with the demands. According to her, the employers should sit at the negotiating table, while the unions have a legitimate case in calling for higher wages.
According to the police, there were no major incidents during the demonstrations.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa recently said the protests were an attempt by the unions to show their power, but they were not demonstrating in the right place and that "a linear salary increase" on the state level was not realistic.