Protests against Germansocial welfare in 222 towns

7th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

7 September 2004 , LEIPZIG - Protests against Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's planned social welfare cuts spread Monday into hundreds of smaller German towns, with participation steady nationally. Police estimated that 75,000 people took to the streets around the country. In previous weeks, turnout had run at about 70,000. Organizers say they will keep up the protests as the 1 January reforms approach. The government aims to reduce its welfare spending by means testing beneficiaries. Opponents say this is u

7 September 2004

LEIPZIG - Protests against Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's planned social welfare cuts spread Monday into hundreds of smaller German towns, with participation steady nationally.

Police estimated that 75,000 people took to the streets around the country. In previous weeks, turnout had run at about 70,000.

Organizers say they will keep up the protests as the 1 January reforms approach. The government aims to reduce its welfare spending by means testing beneficiaries. Opponents say this is unfair, as there are few jobs in the former East, where unemployment runs at 20 percent.

Some media commentators have suggested the protests have stopped growing as leftists have taken a firmer grip of the organization and centrists have distanced themselves from the rallies.

Police counted 12,000 protesters at the biggest rally Monday in Leipzig. In Berlin and Magdeburg, two other eastern cities where the protests have been strongest, police estimated turnout Monday at 7,000 and 6,000 respectively.

Gregor Gysi, a former Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) leader, told the Magdeburg crowd that the government was making life easier for the rich and for businesses while slashing welfare.

In North Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, where the impact had been less in previous weeks, police said a total of 15,000 demonstrators turned out in 40 towns to oppose means testing and government plans to use beneficiaries in charity work.

It was not immediately clear if militants were fanning out to smaller centres to round up provincial support against Schroeder. Organizers said their aim this week was to spread the protests, with rallies scheduled in 222 towns, according to the Attac network.

It was the fifth straight week of the protests, dubbed the "Monday Demos" in tribute to demonstrations that helped topple East Germany's communist regime in 1989. Attac is a leftist group dedicated to fighting "globalization".

August rallies drew more than 100,000 protesters.

Surveys indicate public support for the welfare reforms rose after Schroeder admitted his ministers had failed to explain to the public why they were needed. He contended that poor families with children will receive more after the changes.

German unemployment is more than 10 percent nationwide but almost 20 percent in former communist eastern Germany.

Schroeder was set to meet Tuesday with labour union leaders, who have organized some of the demonstrations.

The welfare cuts have strained the unions' relationship with the centre-left Social Democrat Party, but both sides appeared Monday to be keen to paper over the differences, with Schroeder saying that the unions and his party shared fundamental values.

Michael Sommer, head of the German trade union federation DGB, said they had the same roots and had a joint task to complete.

DPA

Subject: German news
 

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