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Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuo has ordered nearly 17,000 layoffs to help close a $3.2 billion budget gap.

Strikers congregated at five points in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, for a noon march to the Plaza las Americas mall. Organizers said they expected at least 100,000 people to march and thousands more to stay home from work. University students and some clergy leaders also have joined the stoppage. By midmorning, thousands of protesters had gathered at the mall, many holding signs criticizing the job cuts. Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuo said Thursday he expected no problems from the protests. “Everyone has the right to express themselves, and we will guarantee that right,” Fortuo told CNN affiliate WAPA TV. “The important thing is that we do it with respect, that we do it with order and that we understand that each of our rights ends where the other person’s begins.” News media reported a heavy police presence but no major incidents at the protest sites. Police and some University of Puerto Rico students — several of them wearing hoods — started shoving each other at the mall before the noon rally, but no arrests were reported, the primerahora.com news outlet said. Fortuo ordered nearly 17,000 layoffs in March to help close a $3.2 billion budget gap. The public-sector job cuts are slated to take effect in November.

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Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate exceeds 15 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some analysts said they expect the layoffs to propel that rate to 17 percent. Puerto Rico’s unions called for the one-day islandwide strike to protest the job cuts. Some labor leaders, including truckers’ union head Victor Rodriguez, already were calling the strike a success late Thursday morning. Workers at the Plaza las Americas mall looked like they were preparing for a hurricane Wednesday as they boarded up windows and doors with plywood. The mall has 3,000 employees and 300 stores, restaurants and banks, making it the Caribbean’s largest. It is closed Thursday.

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