Mass protests held across Portugal against cutbacks and the troika

Austerity overload brings record numbers of people onto the streets in Lisbon and Oporto

A woman brandishes a leaflet saying "Passos Troika Out!" during Saturday's march in Lisbon.
A woman brandishes a leaflet saying "Passos Troika Out!" during Saturday's march in Lisbon.patricia de melo moreira (afp)

“Screw the troika, we want our lives back,” was the most defiant slogan heard among the hundreds of thousands of Portuguese who took to the streets on Saturday to demand that the government ease up on austerity measures and cutbacks many say have ruined their lives.

The protest marches were held in some 30 cities across the nation. Demonstrators in all the marches sang the 40-year-old song, Grândola, Vila Morena, linked to the 1974 popular Carnation Revolution uprising.

In Lisbon, people marched peacefully in what was called the largest turnout in the capital since painful austerity measures were introduced by the current conservative government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.

“It is the people who govern,” many chanted.

According to organizers, about 1.5 million demonstrators took to the streets in Lisbon, while in Oporto, Portugal’s second largest city, some 400,000 turned out. Regardless of the numbers and to what extent they have been exaggerated, the marches by far surpassed the last protest held on September 15 which forced Passos Coelho to back down and set aside a measure calling for general salary cuts.

It is the people who govern,” many chanted

Nevertheless, the Portuguese prime minister instead introduced drastic hikes in taxes arguing that there was no other way for the country to meet its European Union deficit-reduction commitments. Portuguese from all walks of life took part in the Lisbon march. Retirees came out to protest pension cuts, while students demanded that the government stop making cutbacks to education. Many said that they were worse off than two years ago when the troika — European Central Bank, IMF and EU — ordered the austerity measures as part of the country’s rescue plan.

Portugal is expected to go through a third straight year of recession in 2013, with a two-percent contraction. The overall jobless rate has grown to a record 17.6 percent.

Representatives from the troika are in Lisbon for the seventh time to evaluate how the country is faring in its 78-billion-euro bailout program.

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