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Thousands of Portuguese soldiers protest budget cuts

Thousands of Portuguese soldiers marched Saturday in Lisbon to protest cuts announced in next year’s budget, with some calling for the measures to be tested in the constitutional court.

Dressed in civilian clothing, they marched silently behind banners calling for respect for the military and “national sovereignty”. Media estimates put the numbers at around 5,000.

“We are getting cut after cut and there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” one soldier, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

“These austerity measures are hitting us a lot,” said one senior navy officer, saying their special military status had not spared them. His net monthly wage had been cut by 500 euros to 2,000 euros since 2010, he added.

The soldiers were also protesting other measures, such as increased social security contributions.

A number of associations representing serving soldiers have called on President Anibal Cavaco Silva to put the new budget before the constitutional court to test its legality.

In July, the court rejected a finance law that deprived civil servants of bonuses, arguing that it violated the constitutionally guaranteed rights to equality of treatment. The government to revise the measure.

Last month, the country’s centre-right coalition adopted an austerity budget for 2013 that includes swingeing public spending cuts and sharp tax increases, in the face of public protests.

The measures are required by the country’s international creditors: the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, extended a 78-billion-euro ($101-billion) bailout in May 2011.

In return, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has undertaken to cut the public deficit to 4.5 percent of gross domestic product next year, from a target of 5.0 percent this year.

His government is seeking 5.3 billion euros ($6.9 billion) in savings, of which 80 percent is to come from tax rises.

On Tuesday, hundreds of police officer marched on parliament to list their own grievances, which include a freeze on early retirement and the loss of the right to free public transport.

Portugal’s main trade union confederation, the CGPT has called general strike for next Wednesday.