More than 100,000 protest against austerity in Portugal

More than 100,000 people took to the streets of Lisbon and other Portuguese cities Saturday to protest against fresh austerity measures recently announced by the centre-right government.

A protester waves a black flag during a demonstration in front of the Parliament in Lisbon. More than 100,000 people took to the streets of Lisbon and other Portuguese cities Saturday to protest against fresh austerity measures recently announced by the centre-right government.

Organisers estimated that 50,000 people turned out for the Lisbon protest, with a similar number in the second-largest city of Porto and several thousands in around 30 other cities. The country's police generally refuse to release numbers.

In the capital, protesters clashed with police in front of the parliament, but no one was injured.

University students and artists called for the protests on Facebook, but they were also backed by far-left parties and Portugal's biggest union CGTP, which has also called for a large rally at the end of the month.

With banners reading "Stop social terrorism" and "Soon the State will steal from the dead," the protesters were up in arms over the latest austerity measures announced a week ago by the government, as it struggles to meet its economic targets.

"This government will kill Portugal, and if we don't do anything, it will be worse," said Ivan Rodriguez, a protester in his thirties in Lisbon, where others banged on drums and clapped their hands to make as much noise as possible.

"I'm fighting to preserve my job and those of others," he added.

Another slogan, "Let the troika go to the devil," made reference to the country's international creditors -- the so-called troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

The global economic institutions are monitoring Portugal's implementation of spending cuts and reforms required in return for the 78-billion-euro ($102 billion) rescue package the country received in 2011.

These cuts and reforms caused the economy to contract by 1.2 percent in the second quarter, faster than the 0.1 percent rate at the beginning of the year, with the drop for the whole year expected to hit 3.0 percent.

In response, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho announced a rise in social security contributions for public and private sector workers together with cuts in employers' contributions in a bid to kickstart job creation, with unemployment running at more than 15 percent.

But since the announcement, Passos Coelho has met with a barrage of criticism from the opposition and even from several of his political allies.

On Tuesday, Portugal won a reprieve from its creditors, when the EU and IMF agreed to relax Portugal's deficit targets for 2012 and 2013, rewarding the Portuguese for pushing through reforms.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency