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Michael Moore rallies pro-union protesters

MADISON, Wis. – Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore urged Wisconsin residents Saturday to fight Republican efforts to strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights, telling thousands of protesters that “Madison is only the beginning.”

The crowd roared in approval as Moore implored demonstrators to keep up their struggle against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation, saying they’ve galvanized the nation against the wealthy elite and comparing their fight to Egypt’s revolt. He also thanked the 14 state Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to block a vote on the bill, saying they’ll go down in history books.

“We’re going to do this together. Don’t give up. Please don’t give up,” Moore told the protesters, who have swarmed the Capitol every day for close to three weeks.

Police said there were “tens of thousands” of protesters but didn’t give a specific count.

Walker has said the legislation is needed to help ease a state deficit projected to hit $3.6 billion by mid-2013, though opponents see it as an effort to weaken unions.

Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans broke down Thursday, though communication lines remain open, Sen. Tim Cullen said Saturday. Cullen, one of the Democrats who fled the state, said it’s difficult for either side to compromise since Democrats don’t want to lose support from their base and Walker doesn’t want to appear weak by backing down.

Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, wrote in an e-mail that Walker wouldn’t publicly comment on the negotiations but was focused on balancing the budget.