Thousands march in Portugal against austerity

LISBON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands marched in Lisbon and Porto yesterday to protest against austerity measures imposed under the terms of an EU/IMF bailout, the first major rallies since a centre-right government took power in Portugal in June.

The largest union, CGTP, which organised the demonstrations, called for more rallies and labour action in the week of Oct. 20-27 “against impoverishment and injustice, against the aggression by the International Monetary Fund”.

CGTP leader Manuel Carvalho da Silva said as many as 130,000 people took part in the rally in Lisbon, where protesters filled the central Liberdade thoroughfare. Police declined to provide an estimate of the crowd.

The tax on electricity and gas bills rose to 23 percent from 6 yesterday to help plug a budget shortfall. Portugal is trying to avoid the fate of Greece, where a debt crisis has left the country on the brink of default.

Unlike in Greece and other European countries that have been the scene of violent protests against austerity measures, rallies in Portugal are traditionally peaceful and yesterday’s was no exception.

Da Silva stopped short of calling for a general strike which Portugal last witnessed in November.
Under the terms of the 78 billion-euro ($104 billion) bailout, Portugal has to hike taxes, slash spending, apply structural reforms, especially in the labour market, and privatise state property to reduce the budget deficit.

The measures are forecast to cause a deep recession this year and next, and a rise in unemployment from the current level of more than 12 percent, which is already the highest in three decades.

“When we analyse the first 100 days of the new government, it’s a disgrace … the right and extreme right have no solution for the country’s problems, no economic development,” Carvalho da Silva told protesters.

“When they attack our rights, when poverty and injustice are growing, then our struggle has to be generalised, it has to be everyone’s struggle.”

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