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TORONTO SHUTDOWN LOOMS IN ACTION AGAINST ONTARIO GOVERNMENT

For the first time in more than half a century, Toronto could be "shut down" by protest marches and strikes this weekend.

One hundred thousand union members, students, teachers and other groups opposed to the policies of Ontario Premier Mike Harris' Progressive Conservative Party government plan to grind the city to a halt Friday when walls of pickets are expected to rise across the city, surrounding every large corporation and public utility in sight, including Pearson Airport, train stations, public transit, highway off-ramps and liquor stores.

Most hotels are already booked solid by people afraid they won't be able to get to work Friday when public transit and protesters push the center core into an immobile gridlock for the so-called "Days of Action" protest.

While Friday's strike action and Saturday's protest march to the Ontario Legislature are aimed at Harris, shrapnel from the political blast is striking everywhere but the premier's office. Hospitals around Toronto have canceled hundreds of operations, including heart surgeries that were booked months in advance, because they can't be sure of staffing levels.

Harris, meanwhile, has shrugged off the planned protest, saying his agenda will not be swayed by the marchers.

Morys Karmiol, a salesman at the Save-More store in downtown Toronto, described the coming protest strike as "totally uncalled for. It's going to screw up my life. The little guy's going to suffer and it's bad PR for them."

However, University of Toronto biology student Jeanette David said the Days of Action will "wake people up" about the effects of Harris' cutbacks in social services, such as health care and education.

"The government has a great end vision. But the means are hurting the weakest members of society. Harris is treating this whole thing like it was a math problem, not people," she said.

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