90,000 protest in Germanyover cuts in jobless benefits
17 August 2004, BERLIN - Embattled German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's efforts to water down his unpopular economic reforms met with rejection Monday as more than 90,000 people took to the streets in scores of cities and towns throughout the nation. In the largest protest march, as many as 20,000 protesters marched in Magdeburg in eastern Germany, RTL Television reported. "I'm a well-qualified school teacher, I'm over 50, I'm out of work," one woman told a TV interviewer in Magdeburg. "I'm fed up." The s
17 August 2004
BERLIN - Embattled German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's efforts to water down his unpopular economic reforms met with rejection Monday as more than 90,000 people took to the streets in scores of cities and towns throughout the nation.
In the largest protest march, as many as 20,000 protesters marched in Magdeburg in eastern Germany, RTL Television reported.
"I'm a well-qualified school teacher, I'm over 50, I'm out of work," one woman told a TV interviewer in Magdeburg. "I'm fed up."
The scene was repeated in communities large and small across Germany Monday in what analysts termed a key turning point in the national debate over Schroeder's controversial economic and social reforms.
Monday's turnout was far larger than the 40,000 protester who marched last week against the reforms in eastern Germany. Monday's protests also included cities in western Germany such as Cologne, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart and Hamburg. But those protest marches were far smaller than the ones in eastern Germany.
And for the first time in the new wave of weekly Monday marchers, protests occurred in Berlin as well, where 10,000 protesters marched past government ministries.
The largest marches and rallies took place in cities throughout eastern Germany Monday - in a controversial revival of 1989 marches that brought down the East German communist regime.
Aside from Magdeburg, 15,000 marchers turned out Monday afternoon in Leipzig, marching under the banner "We are the People", which was the rallying call of anti-communist regime protest marches on Monday evenings in Leipzig 15 years ago.
In eastern Germany unemployment is running twice the national rate of 10.5 percent, and in many places it is nearly 50 percent.
Monday's protests despite Schroeder's cabinet moved to ease cuts of unemployment benefits. Schroeder ordered ministers back from vacation last Wednesday for an emergency cabinet session to water down the law, dubbed "Hartz IV" after Volkswagen executive Peter Hartz who is its architect.
Changes to exemptions and a one-off payment in January are minor and do not alter the backbone of the law - but they will cost the government up to EUR 800 million.
Schroeder's centre-left government - battling record opinion poll lows as Germany slowly shakes off three years of economic stagnation - clearly had hoped such tinkering with the jobless benefits law would defuse further protests.
There is concern however among some observers that by giving in so swiftly to protests the government may fuel bigger demonstrations against the bill, which slashes payments for the long-term unemployed and introduce means testing for the first time in Germany.
Protest organisers and trade unions meanwhile said the government climbdown was merely an initial victory in the struggle against the unpopular bill.
"The protests will continue ... we want to get rid of Hartz IV," declared Andreas Erholdt, organiser of a demonstration last Monday in the eastern German city of Magdeburg.
Harald Reutter, spokesman for public sector union Verdi said union members were now gunning for a clause making it hard for the unemployed to turn down jobs deemed to be lower than those they previously held.
"We have to stick to our course on the really difficult issues," said Reutter.
Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement, a staunch supporter of reform, has strongly criticized continuing demonstrations and insisted they would not influence the government.
"Pressure from the street plays absolutely no role," he said.
The government predicts the economy will grow between 1.5 percent and 2 percent this year and Clement said the higher figure was now far more likely.
Subject: German news