MADRID – Anti-austerity protesters on Saturday took to the streets of dozens of European cities, including Madrid, Frankfurt and Lisbon, to express their anger at government cuts they say are making the financial crisis worse by stifling growth and increasing unemployment.
Thousands marched peacefully toward Madrid’s central Neptuno fountain near Parliament, chanting “Government, resign.”
Around 15,000 people gathered outside the International Monetary Fund’s headquarters in Lisbon shouting “IMF, out of here.”
Many protesters were carrying banners saying, “No more cuts” and “Screw the Troika,” a reference to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the three-member group that bailed out the governments of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus.
The bailout loans were given on the understanding that governments enact stringent austerity measures to rein in their heavily indebted finances.
Spain came perilously close to needing a sovereign bailout last year and was forced to negotiate a 40 billion euro ($52 billion) loan for its stricken banking system when its borrowing costs soared.
The country has been in recession for most of the past four years and has a record 27.2 per cent unemployment rate. The percentage is twice that high for Spaniards under 25 years old.
Spain has since seen almost daily protests by people angry over money-saving cuts and reforms in the education and health sectors while failing banks received billions.
Spain’s central and regional governments claim the cuts are needed to help the country reduce its swollen deficit to within agreed upon European Union limits.
“It’s obvious that the intention of those governing us is not to take a single step back,” said Madrid fireman Eduardo Oliva, 43. “So, it’s in our hands, in all European citizens’ hands, to demand change. Otherwise life’s going to become impossible for us.”
Portugal pledged to cut its debt in return for a 78 billion euro ($101 billion) bailout two years ago, but tax hikes and pay cuts have contributed to a sharp economic downturn. The country is forecast to post a third straight year of recession in 2013 while unemployment has climbed to 17.7 per cent and is forecast to keep on rising.
Also Saturday, German police and thousands of anti-capitalist protesters engaged in a standoff near the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.
Police in Germany’s financial capital said about 7,000 protesters refused to move after officers encircled a group of about 200-300 people because they refused to remove face masks they were wearing.
Organizers of the “Blockupy” protest said up to 20,000 people had demonstrated against the ECB’s role in pushing European countries to cut government spending as part of efforts to reduce public debt.
Frankfurt police spokesman Erich Mueller said officers had used pepper spray and batons to stop some protesters from breaking through police lines.
Other protests Saturday took place in European cities including Barcelona, Brussels, Bilbao and Valencia.
“Like so many people, I’m really upset at the behaviour of our governments because they have totally caved in just to prop up the banks,” said Jesus Alonso, 63, in Madrid.