Anti-austerity protesters on Saturday took to the streets in 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 Fuente de Neptuno, a fountain close to the Spanish parliament, chanting: “Government, resign.”
About 15,000 people gathered outside the IMF’s headquarters in Lisbon shouting: “IMF, out of here.”
Many protesters were carrying banners reading: “No more cuts” and “Screw the troika,” a reference to the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, 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 (US$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 percent 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 health and education 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 EU 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 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 this year, while unemployment has climbed to 17.7 percent and is forecast to keep on rising.
Also on 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 to 300 people because they refused to remove the masks they were wearing.
Organizers of the “Blockupy” protest said up to 20,000 people had demonstrated against the central bank’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 also took place in other Spanish cities including Barcelona, Bilbao and Valencia, as well as in Brussels, Belgium.
“Like so many people, I’m really upset at the behavior of our governments because they have totally caved in just to prop up the banks,” Jesus Alonso, 63, said in Madrid.