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Street protests as Portugal votes on austerity budget

Published on 26/11/2013

Thousands of angry protestors rallied outside the Portuguese parliament on Tuesday as lawmakers prepared to vote on a tough new austerity budget for the debt-wracked nation.

“Government: resign” and “Enough of these crooks” shouted the demonstrators massed outside the building following a call by the main union federation the CGTP.

“Even if this rally does not change the outcome of the vote, it is important for the government and lawmakers to know the Portuguese are against these measures,” said 61-year-old retired civil servant Isabel Quintas.

Despite pressure from the street, the ruling centre-right coalition was expected to easily pass the text, approved in a first reading on November 1.

Portugal secured a 78-billion-euro ($104 million) economic bailout by the International Monetary Fund and European Union in May 2011, slated to end in June next year.

As a condition of the rescue, Lisbon has had to enact a series of austerity reforms to get its finances in check.

The scale of the reforms and the painful impact of recession have sparked mass street protests, provoking a political crisis over the summer that nearly brought down Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s coalition government.

The 2014 budget aims to save another 3.9 billion euros ($5.3 billion), partly through cutting public sector salaries and pensions.

“Without this budget the country will not be able to exit its financial assistance programme at the intended date,” Passos Coelho has warned.

Portugal hopes the budget squeeze will allow it to complete its debt-rescue programme in mid-2014, returning fully to borrowing on the bond market.

Once approved by parliament, the budget still needs approval from the Constitutional Court, which triggered a political crisis once before by rejecting tax measures intended to meet bailout terms, and is due to rule in coming weeks on the proposed civil servant wage cuts.