Austerity strikes rock Spain, Italy

2012-11-14 21:41
Protestor in Lisbon, Portugal (Francisco Seco, AP)

Protestor in Lisbon, Portugal (Francisco Seco, AP)

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Brussels - Hundreds of thousands of Europe's beleaguered citizens went on strike or snarled the streets of several capitals on Wednesday, at times clashing with riot police, as they demanded that governments stop cutting benefits and create more jobs.

Workers with jobs and without spoke of a "social emergency" crippling the world's largest economic bloc, a union of 27 nations and half a billion people.

The protests were met with tear gas in Italy and Spain, but were largely limited to the countries hardest hit by the austerity measures designed to bring government spending into line with revenues.

Wealthier nations like Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark saw only small, sedate demonstrations.

With no end in sight to Europe's economic hardship, workers were trying to take a stand on Wednesday.

"There is a social emergency in the south," said Bernadette Segol, secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation.

"All recognise that the policies carried out now are unfair and not working."

The Spanish strike shut down most schools, and hospitals operated with skeleton staffs. Health and education have both suffered serious spending cutbacks and increased moves toward privatisation.

In Italy, protests turned violent as well, with some of the tens of thousands of students and workers clashing with riot police in several cities.

In bailed-out Portugal, where the government intends to intensify austerity measures next year, protest marches in 40  cities reportedly were peaceful.

Philippe de Buck, chief of the EU employers' federation Eurobusiness, said the strike would cost billions of euros and hurt Europe's ability to attract investors.

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