Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards and Portuguese rallied in the streets of their countries’ capitals Saturday to protest against deepening austerity plans imposed by their right wing governments.
In Madrid, demonstrators sought to ‘encircle’ parliament for the third time this week to show their anger at government spending cuts, tax rises hitting the majority and the highest jobless rate among the 17 nations in the Eurozone.
The crowds in the Spanish capital yelled “Fire them, fire them!” – referring to the right wing Popular Party government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
On Friday, Rajoy’s administration presented a 2013 draft budget that will cut overall spending by €40 billion, freezing the salaries of public workers, cutting spending for unemployment benefits and offering rises in pensions that will fail to keep up with inflation.
In Spain, Rajoy has an absolute majority and has pushed through waves of austerity measures over the last nine months.
The protests near Spain’s parliament turned violent Tuesday and Wednesday nights when protesters clashed with riot police, who barricaded entry to the streets surrounding government buildings. Dozens of people were arrested and injured.
Investors worried about Spain’s economic viability – hit by Rajoy’s austerity obsession – have forced up the interest rate they are willing to pay to buy Spanish bonds.
The country’s banks who are suffering the hangover of a speculative property boom that went bust are set to be rewarded for their reckless behaviour with a €100 billion cheque underwritten by Spanish and EU taxpayers that will come with strings attached that punish Spaniards and force them to renounce sovereignty.
Rajoy is mulling whether to ask for help from the European Central Bank to buy Spanish bonds, a move that would bring a further power grab by EU authorities and more sacrifices for ordinary Spaniards.
In Lisbon, the turn-out on to the streets was huge, just two weeks after as many as a million marched against Government plans, via changes to social security contributions, to cuts workers’ wages and offer hand-outs for employers. These proposals have since been withdrawn.
Armenio Carlos, general secretary of the CGTP, the largest trade union centre in the country with some 700,000 members, warned that his union will not accept further cuts to salaries and announced that the union would consider calling for a general strike, which would be the third faced by the right wing government of Pedro Passos Coelho since it came to power fifteen months ago.
The organizers estimated that hundreds of thousands had turned out to protest against the Troika and its punishing bailout conditions, while the authorities, as usual, did not comment on the size of the protest.
Photos of Spain’s protests
Video of Portugal protests:
El Publico, AP