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Mass protests in Portugal over austerity cuts

Demonstrators hold marches in 20 cities denouncing government cutbacks aimed at pulling nation out of recession.
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2013 21:03
Portugal is expected to endure a third straight year of recession in 2013, with a 2 percent contraction [AFP]

Many thousands of demonstrators have held marches in more than 20 cities in Portugal to protest against
government-imposed austerity measures aimed at lifting the ailing country out of recession.

Tens of thousands of people filled a Lisbon boulevard during Saturday's protests and headed to the finance ministry carrying placards saying "Screw the troika, we want our lives back".

The troika is a reference to the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, the lenders behind the country's financial bailout.

Many protesters were singing a 40-year-old song linked to a 1974 popular uprising known as the Carnation Revolution.

Portugal is expected to suffer a third straight year of recession in 2013, with a two percent contraction. The overall jobless rate has grown to a record 17.6 percent.

The marches were powered mostly by young people among whom unemployment is close to 40 percent.

The country's largest trade union, the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers, with some 600,000 members, also supported the marches and swelled numbers.

Austerity deepening

After several years of tax increases and welfare cuts, austerity is poised to deepen as the government looks for another $5.2bn to cut over the next two years.

The national health service, education, pensioners and government workers are likely to be the hardest hit.

The government is locked into debt-cutting measures in return for the $102bn financial rescue set up in 2011. More tax hikes this year sliced another chunk off wages.

The rallies, which coincide with a quarterly review by the EU/IMF bailout inspectors, are the first large protests since the government acknowledged last month the economic downturn this year would be nearly double its earlier predictions.

The forecast 1.9 percent decline will further deepen the worst recession since the 1970s, already in its third year.
   
Tax hikes and spending cuts ordered by the terms of the $101.3bn bailout agreed in mid-2011 have slashed consumer demand and pushed unemployment to record levels of 17 percent, causing thousands of small businesses to go bust.

"This government has left the people on bread and water, selling off state assets for peanuts to pay back debts that were contracted by corrupt politicians to benefit bankers," said Fabio Carvalho, a movie-maker, protesting on Lisbon's main Liberdade thoroughfare.

"If not today, things have to change tomorrow and we need to remain in the streets for the government to fall."

The rallies were organised in Lisbon, Porto and several dozen other cities via the Internet by a group of activists known as Que Se Lixe a Troika, or Screw the Troika. 

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