Europe unites in austerity protests against cuts and job
Millions take part in strikes, stoppages and marches on
day of co-ordinated action as eurozone teeters on return
Tom Kington in Rome, Helena Smith in Athens, Kim
Willsher in Paris and Martin Roberts in Madrid
Wednesday 14 November 2012 14.30 EST
Hundreds of thousands of Europeans mounted one of the
biggest coordinated anti-austerity protests across the
continent on Wednesday, marching against
German-orchestrated cuts as the eurozone is poised to
move back into recession.
Millions took part in Europe-wide strikes, and in city
after city along the continent's debt-encrusted
Mediterranean rim, thousands marched and scores were
arrested after clashes with police.
There were banners declaring "Austerity kills," Occupy
masks, flares, improvised loudspeakers and cancelled
flights. But there was also a violent, even desperate
edge to the demonstrations, particularly in Madrid and
several Italian cities. In the Spanish capital, police
fired rubber bullets to subdue the crowd; in Pisa,
protesters occupied the Leaning Tower, and in Sicily
cars were burned.
"There is a social emergency in the south," said
Bernadette Segol, the secretary general of the European
Trade Union Confederation. "All recognise that the
policies carried out now are unfair and not working."
Swingeing austerity in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal
has sent unemployment soaring - there are now more than
25 million unemployed Europeans, and about one in every
eight people in the eurozone is jobless. Figures to be
released on Thursday are expected to show that the
eurozone has tipped back into recession.
Across northern Europe, protesters turned out more in
sympathy than in anger. Several thousand gathered at the
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and there were stoppages and
marches in Belgium and France. But it was southern
Europe that bore the brunt.
In Italy, students were in the front line in noisy and
often violent anti-austerity marches. In Naples and
Brescia, protesters occupied railway tracks; in Genoa,
the entrance to the ferry port was blocked. In Turin, a
police officer was hit with a baseball bat. Trento,
Trieste and Palermo also saw protests. In Padua, two
police officers were injured in clashes, and 10,000
people marched in Bologna. There were clashes in Milan,
and in Venice protesters draped a bank with banners
reading: "You are making money out of our debts". In
Rome, where there were four separate marches, traffic
was brought to a standstill following clashes on the
banks of the Tiber after far-right students tried to get
round a police line to reach parliament.
In Spain, police helicopters began flying low over
central Madrid as soon as the strike started at midnight
and stayed there all day. Riot police out in force in
the emblematic Puerta del Sol square, where protesters
have gathered for centuries, but particularly since the
"indignant" movement sprang up 18 months ago.
Many shops and banks in central Madrid closed for the
day, or put up security shutters, and police formed a
cordon around the offices of the governing People's
party, and several department stores. Public transport
and state radio services were patchy as workers heeded
the strike call. Long queues formed at bus stops and the
radio relied on recorded fillers. The afternoon news on
Spain's RTVE channel was interrupted by protesters
waving banners in front of outside broadcast cameras.
Traffic jams formed in the evening as noisy
demonstrators filled Madrid's main artery, the
Castellana, toting banners protesting at budget cuts and
backing public services. Many of them chanted "Public
health has to be defended, not sold off".
In Athens, the turnout was thinner than usual, perhaps
because of last week's two-day strike. Protesters
described a country running out of reserves. Many have
survived three years of recession and austerity by
relying on family support or handouts. "But when that
dries up, and it will with these latest measures, there
will be no reason not to descend en masse on to the
streets," said Kostas Kapetanakis, a young sociologist
holding a banner in Syntagma Square demanding free
education, health and welfare system. "There will be a
revolt because we will have absolutely nothing to lose."
Nikos Bokaris, the president of the national foresters'
association standing with other civil servants outside
parliament, feared Greece was being pushed towards a
"Civil servants feel they have been very unfairly
singled out," he said. "I am very afraid that the
country is heading for a massive social upheaval with
huge consequences for public safety and order. All it
will take is a spark."
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