Tens of thousands protest austerity in Brussels

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Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Brussels on Friday to protest harsh austerity measures promised by the incoming Belgian government to fend off the eurozone debt crisis.

Following protests in Britain, Greece and Portugal in recent days, public transport was disrupted in Brussels with only a few metro and tram lines operating as unions expected more than 50,000 people to join the demonstration.

"We are fed-up of paying for the mistakes of bankers," said Anne Delemenne, secretary general of the FGTB socialist union.

"Instead of scaling down unemployment benefits, we should cut bonuses for traders and dividends for shareholders," she said, adding that Belgium had become a "fiscal heaven for the rich and a fiscal hell for those who get up early."

Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo will be sworn in as prime minister early next week after Belgian politicians finally struck a deal this week to end a crisis that left the country without a government for a world-record 19 months.

The coalition of six political parties agreed to make cuts worth 11.3 billion euros next year to bring the public deficit under the eurozone ceiling of 3.0 percent of gross domestic product.

© 2011 AFP

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