16 Sep 2012

Protests in Spain and Portugal over spending cuts

5:59 pm on 16 September 2012

Tens of thousands of people have rallied in Spain and Portugal in protest at spending cuts and tax rises in the debt-hit countries.

In Madrid, public sector workers from all over Spain blocked the capital's Plaza de Colon square and nearby roads.

Many of the protesters - including teachers, nurses and firefighters - were ferried to Madrid in buses by trade unions and other workers' rights groups who organised the rally.

The crowds chanted anti-government slogans, blew whistles and waved banners that read "Enough!" and "They are sinking the country!"

But the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists that the cuts are necessary to save the euro zone's fourth largest economy.

In July, the government announced a €65 billion package of public sector wage cuts and tax rises - part of a deal with euro zone leaders to help rescue Spain's troubled banks.

Madrid has also accepted a loan of up to €100 billion for the country's banks.

Big rallies were also held in Lisbon and other Portuguese towns, with one person reportedly attempting to set himself on fire.

Some 50,000 marched through Lisbon, with tens of thousands also massing in Porto and dozens of other towns.

Portugal has already cut public sector wages and raised taxes to reduce its budget deficit and deal with its economic crisis.

The country agreed to a €78bn bailout deal and recently passed the latest review of its spending cuts.

The BBC reports that for many, the last straw was an announcement a week ago that employees will pay sharply higher social security contributions from next year, even as employers' contributions are cut.