Thousands march in Portugal to protest austerity
Many thousands of demonstrators held marches in more than 20 cities in Portugal on Saturday 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 leading 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. Some waved handkerchiefs in a symbolic gesture, saying goodbye to the government.
"If the government pays attention to what is happening and understands that the people are against them, they should get out," said Serafin Lobato, 65. "If not, this won't stop."
Portugal is expected to endure a third straight year of recession in 2013, with a 2 percent contraction. The overall jobless rate has grown to a record 17.6 percent.
The marches were powered mostly by young people. Unemployment among people under 25 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.
After several years of tax increases and welfare cuts, austerity is poised to deepen as the government looks for another (EURO)4 billion ($5.2 billion) to cut over the next two years, with the national health service, education, pensioners and government workers likely to be the hardest hit.
"There is no future without education, there is no future without culture," said student Ana Julia, 23. "We have to protest to get back what they are trying to take away from us."
The government is locked into debt-cutting measures in return for the (EURO)78 billion ($102 billion) financial rescue set up in 2011. More tax hikes this year sliced another chunk off wages.
Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.