Europe hit by wave of anti-austerity protests
Marches paralyse centre of Brussels while Spain sees first general strike in eight years
Ian Traynor and Elena Moya
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 29 September 2010 20.35 BST
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Europe today as strikes against austerity measures that have hit public spending and services on the continent caused widespread disruption.
The main demonstrations were in Spain, Belgium and Greece, although there was co-ordinated action in more than a dozen countries including Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia and Lithuania.
One of the largest protests converged on a park in Brussels. The demonstrations in the European capital were reinforced by Spain's first general strike in eight years, which was called to oppose the Spanish government's spending cuts and reforms of the labour market and pensions. In Portugal, unions said 50,000 protesters joined a march in Lisbon and 20,000 in Porto.
"It's a crucial day for Europe," said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trades Union Confederation, which orchestrated the events. "This is the start of the fight, not the end. That our voice be heard is our major demand today – against austerity and for jobs and growth. There is a great danger that the workers are going to be paying the price for the reckless speculation that took place in financial markets. You've really got to reschedule these debts so that they are not a huge burden on the next few years and cause Europe to plunge down into recession."
In Brussels marchers from across Europe waved union flags and carried banners saying "No to austerity" and "Priority to jobs and growth", bringing parts of the city to a halt. moreAnd the AP's account.
Anti-austerity protests sweep across Europe
By RAF CASERT (AP)
BRUSSELS — Anti-austerity protests erupted across Europe on Wednesday — Greek doctors and railway employees walked off the job, Spanish workers shut down trains and buses, and one man even rammed a cement truck into the Irish parliament to protest the country's enormous bank bailouts.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into Brussels, hoping to swell into a 100,000-strong march on European Union institutions later in the day and reinforce the impact of Spain's first nationwide strike in eight years.
All the actions sought to protest the budget-slashing, tax-hiking, pension-cutting austerity plans of European governments seeking to control their debt.
In an ironic twist, the march in Brussels accidentally comes just as the EU Commission is proposing to punish member states that have run up deficits. Most of those deficits funded social and employment programs in a time of high unemployment across the continent. The proposal, backed by Germany, is expected to run into strong opposition from France.
"It is a bizarre time for the European Commission to be proposing a regime of punishment," said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, which is organizing the Brussels march.
"How is that going to make the situation better? It is going to make it worse," Monks said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.
Unions fear that workers will become the biggest victims of an economic crisis set off by bankers and traders, many of whom were rescued by massive government intervention.
Several governments, already living dangerously with high debt, were pushed to the brink of financial collapse and have been forced to impose punishing cuts in wages, pensions and employment — measures that have brought workers out by the tens of thousands over the past months.
"There is a great danger that the workers are going to be paying the price for the reckless speculation that took place in financial markets," Monks said. "You really got to reschedule these debts so that they are not a huge burden on the next few years and cause Europe to plunge down into recession." moreMeanwhile, Iceland is moving to send one of its bankster-enablers to jail.
Geir Haarde, Iceland Ex-PM, Indicted For Role In Financial Crisis
GUDJON HELGASON AND PAISLEY DODDS | 09/28/10 06:35 PM |
REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland's former Prime Minister Geir Haarde has been referred to a special court in a move that could make him the first world leader to be charged in connection with the global financial crisis.
After a heated debate Tuesday, lawmakers voted 33-30 to refer charges to the court against Haarde for allegedly failing to prevent Iceland's 2008 financial crash – a crisis that sparked protests, toppled the government and brought the economy to a standstill by collapsing its currency.
Haarde faces up to two years in jail if found guilty. The court, which could dismiss the charges, has never before convened in Iceland's history. A hearing date has not yet been set.
Haarde, ex-leader of the Independence Party, is no longer in parliament and stepped down from office last year following widespread protests and treatment for esophageal cancer. more