Strikes and protests in Europe: Live Report
- Published: 14/11/2012 at 06:47 PM
- Online news:
1844 GMT: AFP is closing our live report here, after millions of workers furious with government austerity measures staged an unprecedented wave of strikes and demonstrations across Europe.
A protester holds a flare during a demonstration in Lisbon on November 14, 2012. Riot police and anti-austerity protesters clashed in Spain and Italy on Wednesday as anger boiled over on a Europe-wide day of strikes and mass demonstrations.
Riot police and protesters clashed in Spain, Italy and Portugal as unions rallied workers to strikes and demonstrations across the continent.
Protesters took to the streets in solidarity around France, Belgium, Germany, and Greece, with workers demanding a turnaround from harsh budget cuts that they say punish the poor and impede growth.
Mass demonstrations continue in Madrid and Lisbon, with tens of thousands of protesters flooding into central Madrid and calls for demonstrations outside parliament through the night.
1836 GMT: Police have baton charged protesters in front of the parliament building in Lisbon.
Police dispersed the protesters with baton blows after demonstrators threw stones and rubbish at them for more than an hour.
1830 GMT: Huge shouts keep rising from a crowd of students moving towards Madrid's Plaza Colon, accompanied by the sound of drums and whistles.
1820 GMT: From Madrid, AFP's Elodie Cuzin reports that dozens of people have gathered outside the lower house of parliament ahead of a late-night protest called by the "indignants" movement.
Many have their faces covered and are holding banners reading "Spain evicted" and "Mariano (Rajoy) go home", as a dozen police vans protect the parliament building
But the main show seems to be the rally called by Spain's trade unions, with thousands flooding in the direction of the landmark Plaza de Cibeles for that demonstration.
1818 GMT: Thousands of protesters are still gathered outside Lisbon's Assembly building, with a small number of them throwing stones at police, who remain impassive.
Five protesters have been slightly injured by flying objects, with one taken to hospital, say Portuguese police.
1805 GMT: The Atocha area, beside Madrid's railway station, is packed with people as are the two kilometres of streets between it and Plaza de Colon, reports AFP's Ingrid Bazinet, calling it a "monster protest".
1800 GMT: In Madrid, many protesters are wearing the green T-shirts of the education sector unions, with the slogan "Public schools for all", or of the health sector, reading "Public healthcare for all" .
Everywhere are protest placards with the word "No" and scissors, representing budget cuts, in the "o". They also bear the slogan: "Merkel Rajoy no! Crisis? Atraco!" -- "Crisis? Robbery!"
1754 GMT: Many of Europe's stock markets have recorded losses today amid the protests.
London's FTSE 100 index dropped 1.11 percent to 5,722.01 points, while in Frankfurt the DAX 30 fell 0.94 percent to 7,101.92 points and Paris' CAC 40 fell 0.89 percent to 3,400.02 points.
Madrid slid 0.27 percent and Milan shed 0.52 percent.
1742 GMT: Crowds are still swelling in Madrid, with a tens of thousands of protesters and a sea of union flags near the lower house of parliament.
Demonstrators are shouting: "We have the solution, send the bankers to prison!"
Meanwhile, there has been little sign of protest in Ireland, reports AFP's Conor Barrins, despite its having been another victim of the European debt crisis.
This may be because of the country's relative success in cutting budgets and shrinking banks -- but anti-austerity protests are planned for later this month, Conor reports.
1722 GMT: "We don't want health privatisation because we see people being denied the right to medical assistance," says Loli, a 54-year-old nurse protesting in Madrid, who did not want to give her full name for fear of being punished by her employer.
1719 GMT: "I'm here to protest against cuts in health and education, VAT hikes and evictions," says demonstrator Javier Gomez, 39, in Madrid.
"I've been unemployed for a year, with a child of 10. I have to pay the mortgage.
"This government has to change. We have to get work somehow."
1713 GMT: In Lisbon, protesters have overturned metal barriers around parliament and are throwing bottles and other objects at riot police, who have closed ranks.
"The people, united, will never be defeated," the crowd is shouting.
Some are kicking the police officers' riot shields and are being repelled with batons.
1709 GMT: Protesters' placards in Madrid include "What is peace without bread?" and "Labour reform is employer terrorism".
1702 GMT: Tens of thousands of people are gathering in central Madrid, reports AFP's Ingrid Bazinet, with crowds along the main avenue and in Atocha and Colon squares.
Two major protests have been called for this evening, after thousands turned out earlier in the day, some of those clashing with police.
1700 GMT: Amid the protests, Cyprus is negotiating its own bailout, but Cypriot President Demetris Christofias says bailout terms put forward by the troika of international lenders are too tough.
"The negotiations are difficult, as we expected, but the political terms proposed by the troika are difficult to accept," Christofias says in the text of a speech to be delivered to the local business community.
"In our view the substance and content of the agreement are decisive parameters as they will determine the future of our country and its people in the years to come."
It seems the tricky conditions are those on spending cuts and privatisation. Cyprus's banks are exposed to Greece and many analysts believe it will need more than 10 billion euros ($12.7 billion) to prop up an 18-billion-euro economy.
1650 GMT: Some striking AFP photos are coming through of a woman dressed as a nun at the anti-austerity protests today in Paris, carrying a placard reading "Le mariage pour tous" (marriage for all).
Gay marriage is a big ongoing issue in France, but we wonder if she's at the wrong protest?
1646 GMT: More from Charles Dallara, the head of the International Institute of Finance -- which represents the world's biggest banks -- speaking earlier in Athens.
He issued a scathing attack on austerity, even as protesters against the Greek government's deep spending cuts surrounded the building where he was speaking.
"It is time to recognise that austerity alone condemns not just Greece but the whole of Europe to the probability of a painful and protracted era of little or no economic growth," Dallara said.
He added that the International Monetary Fund should bolster its participation in Greece's rescue, a course of action that the global lender has strongly resisted.
1631 GMT: Members of the "indignados" protest movement want to camp out all night in front of the Spanish parliament, but police have said they won't allow this.
1627 GMT: A quick summary of what's been happening so far today:
Riot police and anti-austerity protesters have clashed in Spain and Italy as anger boils over on a day of Europe-wide strikes and mass demonstrations.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets, while industry and transport -- including road, rail and air -- have been paralysed in Spain and Portugal.
Seething workers also staged industrial walkouts in Italy, the eurozone's number three economy, and in Greece.
Solidarity rallies have been held in France, Belgium, Germany and around the eurozone, while more protests are expected in Madrid this evening.
1613 GMT: Each pushing a buggy, Joao Vasconcelos and his wife Paula have come to the demonstrations in Lisbon with their children Luisa, 2, and Enrique, 4.
"We are here to fight for the future. In this country, we are applying a recipe that doesn't work. We are pushing forward with no light at the end of the tunnel," Joao tells our reporter, Thomas Cabral.
"I'm here for myself, for my children and for the country," says the 32-year-old father, who works in public administration.
1606 GMT: In Lisbon, thousands of demonstrators have filled the square in front of the Portuguese parliament.
"This strike is one of the largest ever in Portugal. This is the general strike of the 'indignants'," says Armenio Carlos, secretary general of the CGTP, the country's biggest confederation of trade unions.
1603 GMT: Amid the mass protests in his country, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says in an interview published today that Spain's recession-bound economy will begin to recover in 2014.
"The foundations are being set for the economic recovery, although it hasn't happened yet," he says in comments carried by the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, even as many protesters are calling for him to quit.
"We believe that in the year 2014 Spain will already have economic growth and that the year 2013 will be better than the year 2012...
"There are some positive things that are happening. The public debt is being reduced, the reforms, particularly labor reforms, are beginning to produce effects, and on top of that there are improvements in exports."
1557 GMT: Protests have been taking place in about 100 towns and cities in Italy today, with an emphasis on protecting jobs and pensions.
In Rome, demonstrations are largely peaceful, but there have been pockets of unrest across the country.
In Turin, activists temporarily occupied the offices of the local provincial administration and hoisted up a flag of the movement against the construction of a new high-speed rail line.
In Naples, around 300 students briefly staged a sit-in on the railway in the main train station, setting off smoke bombs and flares.
1553 GMT: A total of seventeen police officers have been wounded in Italy, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets today.
Twelve were hurt in street battles in Milan, three in Turin and two in Padua, police said.
In Rome, a group of dozens of young protesters hurled stones and bottles and smashed up cars as they tried to break through police lines to reach the centre. Police fired tear gas and used armoured cars to force them back.
1539 GMT: The centre of Lisbon is at a standstill as at least a thousand demonstrators march towards the parliament building, with pensioners and families with pushchairs at the rear of the procession.
"The struggle continues! Out with the government!" they are chanting.
1521 GMT: More protests are planned in Madrid for later this afternoon, with unions calling for supporters to gather in the city centre at 1700 GMT and the "Indignants" protest movement calling for rallies at 1830 GMT.
1508 GMT: Some 15,000 people have been protesting in Turin, a key industrial city in Italy, according to the country's main trade union, CGIL.
"Because of the lack of work, we are dying, we are poor and we are afraid," said the union's general secretary in Turin, Donata Canta.
1457 GMT: Having said that, Greek protesters did go one better by holding a giant puppet show in Syntagma square, dramatising the plight of Europe with a puppet that, from AFP's images, looks to be about three metres tall.
1446 GMT: From Athens, our reporter Isabel Malsang-Salles notes that the protest there today was much smaller than those in Spain and Italy -- despite Greece's economic plight -- because it was an essentially symbolic gesture of solidarity with protesters elsewhere.
Greece's annual budget and a new austerity law were passed last week, with big protests in the run-up to that, whereas in Spain and Portugal next year's annual budgets are yet to be passed, meaning protesters are hoping they can still influence them.
Greeks may well be out on the streets again before the end of the year, adds Isabel, since lawmakers will vote on big tax rises at the end of December.
About 3,000 people protested in Athens today, with the demonstration ending peacefully.
1441 GMT: Two politicians from Germany's far-left Die Linke party -- Thomas Nord and Andrej Hunko -- are in Paris and have met with Pierre Laurent, head of France's Communist Party.
"It is important to show the solidarity of Germany and France with the people of southern Europe," Hunko said.
1430 GMT: "Europe is waking up today -- from Rome to Madrid to Athens," says Mario Nobile, a 23-year-old university student in Rome.
"The 'PIGS' are rebelling!" he says, using a derogatory acronym for the most troubled eurozone economies -- Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.
1429 GMT: In Spain, the number arrested at protests has risen to 82, while some 34 people have been wounded including 18 police officers.
1425 GMT: Hundreds of protesters are descending on Lisbon's business district, chanting: "The troika does not rule here!" -- referring to the body that organised loans to Greece, Ireland and Portugal -- and "Out with poverty, hunger and the IMF!"
Tourists are stopping by to take photos of the protest, reports AFP's Carole Guirado-Cailleau.
1406 GMT: The Twitter feed @Anonymous_link, a Spanish-language feed that appears to be linked to hacker group Anonymous, tweets in support of the protests: "Our great-grandparents, grandparents and parents fought for what they are trying to take away from us today. It is up to us to say 'NO!'"
1356 GMT: In the deserted Santa Apolonia Station in Lisbon, trader Joaquim Santos asks: "What's the point of the strike?
"The Greeks have done it I don't know how many times, and their situation seems to get worse every time.
"There will be a revolution in Europe, that's for sure, but not in Portugal. It's in our DNA to be peaceful."
1351 GMT: The face-off in Madrid seems to have ended, with thousands of protesters making a U-turn away from the Plaza de Cibeles and the police line.
1343 GMT: At the Paris demo, Santa Claus has appeared, wearing union badges and saying he "expects a gift and a decent retirement" after 18 months of living in his car and eating soup.
He is otherwise known as Kamel Benchi, 55, a former social worker who says he was unfairly dismissed from his job, reports AFP's Dominique Brule.
1339 GMT: Dozens of student protesters are throwing rocks and bottles at riot police along the banks of the River Tiber in Rome, with police firing back tear gas, reports AFP's Dario Thuburn.
The centre of Rome is surrounded by police as a helicopter flies overhead, adds our reporter Michele Leridon.
1335 GMT: Demonstrations have begun in Paris, with crowds chanting a slogan used by the Unsa union: "French, Germans, Italians -- we are all Europeans."
1328 GMT: European trade unions have staged an ironic presentation of the "Nobel Prize for austerity" outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels -- a reaction to the European Union's Nobel win last month.
Several hundred protesters gathered outside the building to hear speeches from union leaders after marching to the embassies of Spain, Greece and Portugal.
Lisbon's embassy was pelted with eggs and firecrackers.
1322 GMT: The march in Athens, made up of about 5,000 people according to a police count, has ended peacefully, according to AFP's John Hadoulis.
The march ended in Syntagma Square, the scene of mass protests -- sometimes descending into clashes with police -- since the country's debt crisis broke out in 2010.
Most of today's protesters were civil servants, teachers, professors and students, with some supporters of left-wing parties.
1314 GMT: In Madrid, police have been firing rubber bullets into the air and charging with batons to disperse protesters at the edge of the Plaza de Cibeles, a landmark square and the site of City Hall.
Police have emptied the square and it's now calmer but still very tense, with thousands of protesters face-to-face with a police cordon, reports AFP's Ingrid Bazinet.
1306 GMT: In Athens, about 3,000 people have joined the protest, many of them waving Greek, Spanish and Portuguese flags.
"Athens, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon -- everyone in the streets!" protesters are chanting.
Others shout: "Education, health, electricity, water -- they are not goods. They belong to the people."
There is a strong showing from members of the radical left-wing Syriza party, now Greece's main opposition, who are shouting: "Resistance to the capitalist debacle!"
1258 GMT: Solidarity protests are building up in France and Belgium, with thousands massing in the French cities of Lille and Bordeaux, and crowds of flag-waving demonstrators outside the European Union headquarters in Brussels.
1253 GMT: Despite some clashes in Italian cities and in central Madrid, the protests are overwhelmingly peaceful so far.
1249 GMT: From Rome, AFP's Dario Thuburn reports that a group of far-left activists are in a tense face-off with riot police in Rome city centre.
"Monti Go Away, No to Social Massacre!" reads one of their banners, in reference to Prime Minister Mario Monti.
Six police officers have meanwhile been injured in clashes in Milan and Turin, one of them seriously, Italian media are reporting.
Around 20 activists beat a riot police officer with stick and baseball bats in Turin, they say.
1245 GMT: In Spain, which is at the heart of the industrial action today, the economy minister says the strike is "not the right path".
The government's deficit-cutting policy has caused "sacrifices and uncertainty among Spanish people", Luis de Guindos says, but "it is the only alternative to escape the crisis."
A protesting student, 21-year-old Eduardo Ovalle, disagrees. He points to a recent government decision to act against a surge in hotly contested home-evictions, linked to two recent suicides, as evidence that protests can work.
Ovalle says that teachers are warning students not to expect jobs after graduation. "They're forcing us to leave Spain," he says.
1233 GMT: Germany's federation of trade unions, DGB, has called for protests across the country including in Berlin (from 1500 GMT) and Frankfurt.
In Greece, many blame Germany for the austerity measures imposed by the eurozone as a condition for aid.
DGB said in a statement: "For now it is mostly people in southern Europe suffering from a crisis they are not responsible for. But the consequences will surely be felt in the rest of Europe."
1230 GMT: In Madrid, AFP's Ingrid Bazinet reports more confrontations between police and protesters on main roads where most shops are shuttered.
A group of younger protesters has forced down the metal grille on the front of a souvenir shop on the Puerta del Sol, forcing it to close.
Others are howling and hissing at police as they pass on motorcycles.
Thousands of people are meanwhile gathering in the square, hoisting banners.
1227 GMT: Our photographers are sending in images of deserted airports and long bus queues in Lisbon, where much transportation has halted because of the strikes.
In Madrid airport, meanwhile, a number of stranded would-be travellers have resorted to sleeping on top of their heaps of luggage.
1219 GMT: Stock markets are sliding across Europe in the face of the strikes.
London's benchmark FTSE 100 index dropped 0.66 percent to 5,748.08 points towards midday, while Frankfurt's DAX 30 slipped 0.44 percent to 7,137.79 points and in Paris the CAC 40 lost 0.41 percent to 3,416.53.
Madrid stocks slipped 0.12 percent and Milan shed 0.43 percent.
"Eurozone concerns continue to hit risk appetite," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari trading group.
"Strikes against austerity in the southern eurozone states are starting to gather large support, raising concerns about how much more the countries can take."
1212 GMT: In Rome, schoolteacher Francesco Locantore, 38, tells AFP why he's taken to the streets: "With the excuse of austerity, they're attacking our fundamental rights," he says.
"That's why today is so important."
An elderly woman at the protest says: "I am here to ask for an increase in pensions because we can't live like this any more.
"I get a pension of 650 euros ($765) a month and once I've paid all the taxes, it's 400 euros!"
1205 GMT: In Italy, the biggest trade union Cgil is staging small protests and strikes in dozens of cities including Milan and Turin.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets, while union members are staging a four-hour strike across all sectors except for public transport in cities.
"A woman's place is in the struggle," reads one bright orange banner held up by a protester in Rome, in an image captured by our photographer Andreas Solaro.
Others are wearing placards with the names of classic books such as "Moby Dick" and "Lolita" -- a pro-education protest?
1200 GMT: In Athens, thousands of protesters have begun marching to the Greek parliament headed by a banner proclaiming: "Stop austerity -- growth now."
The atmosphere there is relaxed, reports AFP's John Hadoulis.
1157 GMT: From Madrid, AFP's Ingrid Bazinet says police have pushed protesters away from the main Gran Via avenue, but demonstrators are undeterred and are heading on smaller streets towards the central Puerta del Sol, a square that has become a symbol of protest.
"More education, less police!" they are shouting.
1149 GMT: As protesters prepare to rally in Athens, the head of the Washington-based Institute of International Finance -- which represents the world's biggest banks -- speaks to bankers and government officials in the Greek capital.
"Greece needs a relaxed pace of budgetary adjustment," says Charles Dallara, calling for more involvement by the International Monetary Fund and fast structural changes in the operation of the eurozone.
He says it's "ironic" that he's speaking as anti-austerity strikes and protests span the continent.
1140 GMT: Budget airline easyJet tweets: "A General Strike is taking place across Europe today. Passengers please see our Travel Status for any disruptions."
In Spain, airlines Iberia, Iberia Express, Air Nostrum, Vueling, Air Europa and easyJet have cut more than 600 flights including some 250 international routes. Ryanair says no flights had been scrapped yet.
Portugal's TAP says it is grounding more than 170 flights, most of them international.
1130 GMT: Portuguese unemployment hits a new record high -- a sign of the dire economic conditions fuelling these protests.
It was at 15.8 percent in the third quarter of this year, up from 15 percent in the previous quarter and 12.4 percent a year before, the INE statistics agency has just announced.
Strikes are now underway in Portugal, with rubbish collection almost at a halt, Lisbon's metro out of service, trains running a skeleton service and up to 90 percent of hospital staff reported to be on strike.
Unions have called protest marches and rallies in some 40 towns and cities -- the first time general strikes have hit Portugal and Spain together.
1126 GMT: Police are trying to negotiate with protesters to unblock Madrid's main Gran Via avenue, Ingrid reports, but the crowds of demonstrators aren't interested -- they are just chanting "Strike, strike, general strike!" back at the police.
They've been joined by a group of cycling protesters in bright yellow security vests, chanting "The struggle of the working class goes on."
1122 GMT: AFP's Ingrid Bazinet reports from a tense confrontation between protesters and police in central Madrid:
"Rajoy Go Home," reads a banner held aloft by protesters in front of the police -- referring to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
"Huelga, huelga, huelga general!" protesters are screaming -- "Strike, strike, general strike!"
1115 GMT: Workers are holding temporary walkouts in Italy and in Greece, a nation that has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Our reporter Catherine Boitard has been in Athens' Syntagma Square ahead of demonstrations there.
Pensioner Stavroula Pantezopoulou, 70, tells Catherine: "All of the south is in crisis, but Greece has a social and humanitarian crisis as well.
"The situation is very bad. Something needs to happen."
1110 GMT: The general strike in Spain, which started overnight with pickets at factories, train stations and markets, seems to be having a major impact.
Police have arrested 62 people, while 34 people have been injured -- 18 of them police -- in "isolated incidents" amid the protests, said a spokeswoman for the interior ministry.
Electricity use is down 15.8 percent from the normal rate, a sign of the impact on industry, while many train, bus and metro services have ground to a halt.
"They are taking away our future!" declare banners strung up around central Madrid. One in four of the country's workers is currently unemployed.
1100 GMT: WELCOME TO AFP'S LIVE REPORT on the unprecedented wave of strikes and protests across Europe on Wednesday.
Workers in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy are taking strike action over deep government cuts prompted by Europe's debt crisis, while union-led rallies in solidarity are planned in France, Belgium, Germany and Poland.
More than 700 flights are grounded and factories have ground to a halt amid what the European Trade Union Confederation said are the first simultaneous strikes in four European countries.
"14-N" -- the shorthand for November 14 being used to describe the strikes -- is trending on Twitter worldwide, while hundreds of web users are posting photos of banner-wielding workers who have taken to the streets.
In Spain, where picketing began overnight, police are clashing with hundreds of young protesters in central Madrid as officers try to disperse crowds and stop them blocking the main Gran Via avenue, according to AFP journalists at the scene.
Stay with us for regular updates from AFP's correspondents around Europe.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency