Luxembourg - Steel workers attacked ArcelorMittal's Luxembourg headquarters on Tuesday, setting off smoke bombs and trying to break through the front door to protest temporary layoffs during the economic slump.
While the company held its annual shareholders' meeting, some among the 1 000 workers from Belgium and France hurled cobblestones and steel fencing at the building, which riot police lined up to protect.
One protestor broke into the building and between 20 and 30 others fought police at the entrance. Journalists were told to leave the ground floor and go out a back entrance as smoke filled the halls.
The protest did not affect the shareholder meeting or lunch, which continued on the building's upper floor.
Police expected some 2 000 workers to join the demonstration, taking some 50 buses from plants in northern France and from Charleroi and Liege in southern Belgium. About 1 000 turned out.
ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel maker, has cut production by half as the steel industry rapidly went from boom to bust late last year.
It has shuttered plants across the world, laid off temporary workers and put full-time workers on reduced pay during the output freeze.
ArcelorMittal chief executive Lakshmi Mittal said the cutbacks were a "temporary suspension of production in view of the market conditions" and that he expected sales to recover in the second half of this year.
"Customers have stopped buying steel and are using up their current inventory," he told shareholders. "There is absolutely no point continuing to produce what we know we cannot sell."
Deciding which plants would reopen first would depend on how cost-competitive they are, he said.
Trade unions warned on Monday that tensions among workers were high because the company won't give firm details on when shuttered plants would restart. It said ArcelorMittal management walked out of talks this month on restarting a blast furnace in Liege.
Germany's largest steelmaker ThyssenKrupp said on Friday it plans to cut up to 2 000 jobs at its seven plants in Germany by 2011. It employs nearly 200 000 people worldwide.
ArcelorMittal has so far avoided major permanent layoffs but is offering voluntary redundancy to 9 000 of its 315 000 staff around the world.
The European steel federation says that one in six steel workers in the region have lost their jobs or are working shorter hours since the start of the economic crisis. It claims some 72 000 jobs or 17% of the European Union's 440 000-strong steel work force have been hit by the downturn.