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By Marja Novak

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Thousands of Slovenians rallied on Saturday to protest against government austerity policies denounced by trade unionists as a "neo-liberal virus that is spreading across Europe".

Slovenia adopted the euro in 2007 and has been badly hit by the global crisis due to its dependency on exports.

This year the government, struggling to avoid a bailout, cut public sector wages by about 3 percent. It plans a further 5 percent cut next year to bring the budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP in 2013, from 4.2 percent expected in 2012.

According to organizers, about 30,000 people gathered in a large square in the capital Ljubljana to call for an end to the austerity program.

"We demand that the government rejects that neo-liberal virus that is spreading across Europe ... the reforms have to be in line with the needs of citizens and not in line with expectations of the people in Brussels," Dusan Semolic, head of the largest trade union ZSSS, told the crowd.

Students and pensioners joined the demonstration, protesting against cuts in spending for schools and universities, increases of taxes for students and pension cuts.

"I'm protesting because the government is reducing funds for universities and students. I believe that everyone should have free access to knowledge and that universities should be autonomous," said politics student Nastja Vidmar.

The Slovenian government also plans to raise the retirement age from January, ease hiring and firing of employees and cut unemployment benefits. It expects the economy to contract by 2 percent this year and by a further 1.4 percent in 2013.

Conservative Prime Minister Janez Jansa has said reforms are necessary for Slovenia to be able to borrow on international markets in the future. The country needs to repay some 2 billion euros of debt in the middle of 2013.

(Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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