Portuguese diva drowns out president

2012-10-17 18:33
(AFP)

(AFP)

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Lisbon - Opera singer Ana Maria Pinto made headlines recently when she interrupted a speech by the Portuguese president by bursting into song - and has since become one of the best known faces of a protest movement which has no official leaders.

Rage at the government's relentless spending cuts turned violent this week, with demonstrators hurling rocks, bottles and apples at riot police in Lisbon.
And 31-year-old Pinto warns that these previously rare occurrences are on the increase.

"The governments of my country have long been corrupt, but this one is also fanatical [in its austerity drive]," says Pinto, whom one magazine dubbed The Warrior.

The singer spoke shortly after Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho's government presented a 2013 budget containing tax hikes which even Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar called "enormous".

No choice

Passos Coelho's austerity policies are aimed at meeting the conditions set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which granted Lisbon a bailout worth €78bn.

The government says it has no choice but to follow the instructions of the creditors, if it wants to avoid having to seek another bailout and to adopt even tougher budget cuts.

But Passos Coelho is now coming under criticism from nearly all quarters - the left-wing opposition, trade unions, church leaders, entrepreneurs and even members of his own centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD).

The deficit targets contained in the budget are "absolutely unviable", said Manuela Ferreira Leite, a former finance minister and former PSD leader.

Strict austerity in a recession-hit country with a 16% unemployment rate will only paralyse the economy and plunge even more people into poverty, critics argue.

Participating in a television talk show this week, Pinto was invited to listen to the testimonies of a teacher whose pupils came hungry to class, and of people who had lost their homes to banks claiming mortgage payments.

Revolution

"This government is not the solution, we are all convinced of that," she concludes.

However, the protest leader rejects violent demonstrations and calls for a "new Carnation Revolution."

She is referring to the almost bloodless uprising that toppled a decades-long dictatorship in 1974, ushering Portugal into democracy.

Many of the current protests are called anonymously over Facebook, where Pinto has created a group called Acordai (Wake up) - the name of an old Portuguese song that she sang at some of the protest rallies.

Anonymous

"The tale told by the government, that we, the people, have lived above our means" and helped to create a debt burden "is all manipulation", she fumes.

Yet despite her growing fame, Pinto wants to remain true to the anonymous nature of the protest movement she is part of, and rejects the idea of creating a political party.

"The sung word is pure and authentic," says the artist, who relies on singing as her main political weapon.

"I studied music to get to the people and to be close them. I am moved by truth, love and respect."

Read more on:    portugal
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