Thousands take to the streets against austerity measures

Thousands of students, public sector workers, pensioners and unemployed marched through the streets of Portugal’s main cities on Saturday to protest at the austerity measures being pursued by the government.

Calling on a General Strike, in Lisbon they gathered at 3pm at the city’s Marquês de Pombal roundabout before marching towards Rato and on to the Parliament.

By five o’clock, the crowd, which could have numbered 100,000, had gathered in front of the Portuguese Parliament, the Assembleia da República, where tensions ran high after scores of protestors kicked down security barriers and invaded the outside steps of the actual building.

In Porto, 10,000 gathered in the city’s Avenida dos Aliados in a show of international solidarity in a facsimile set of demonstrations that took place in 1,000 cities all over the world including Athens, London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Vienna, New York, Washington, Montreal, Tokyo, Auckland and Sydney.

Equally, there were similar scenes from ‘Los Indignados’ in Spanish cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and San Sebastían. Around 50,000 gathered in Madrid’s Porta do Sol square and around the Cibeles fountain.

Up to 1,000, mostly students, also protested in Portugal’s university city of Coimbra while smaller pockets of several hundred protested in other Portuguese towns and cities including Braga, Funchal (Madeira), Angra do Heroísmo (The Azores) and Faro.

In Portugal, the ‘Outraged’ (Indignados) as they called themselves, said they were protesting at the actual state of the country, demanding a new policy and direction, one that was more democratic and participative.

In the late afternoon, several thousand gathered in Lisbon’s Terreiro do Paço square by the riverfront to conduct a “vigil” which lasted until two o’clock on Sunday morning.

However, unlike in Rome, which witnessed scenes of violence, car torching and banks having their windows smashed in, the protests in Portugal’s cities by and large passed off peacefully with no significant public order disturbances.

Wearing protective helmets, thigh-high rubber boots, riot gear and riot shields, the 100 or so riot police formed a cordon in front of the parliament at the top of the steps.

Among those most blamed for the crisis was not the Government or its PS socialist predecessor José Sócrates but the rich, the International Monetary Fund and the bankers who were perceived of having started the crisis.

The crowd, with considerable encouragement from the extreme left-wing parties, chanted slogans such as “It’s the bankers who owe money here!” and “Hunger, misery and IMF out!”

Others shouted “Passos you thief, you’re not getting another brass farthing!”

In London, ‘Anti-Greed’ protestors besieged London’s financial district and vowed to continue their struggle “for as long as it takes”.

They attempted to get to the Stock Exchange but police cordoned off the area, so they set up a makeshift camp overnight on Saturday/ Sunday outside St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Thousands also made a repeat march to New York’s financial district and the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street; 70 were reported arrested.

The Portuguese protest organisers have already called for a further demonstration slated for November 26, the day before MPs vote on the State Budget for 2012 in Parliament. C.G.