Portuguese march against new austerity budget

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 19, 2013 1:06 PM

LISBON (Reuters) - Thousands of Portuguese protested on Saturday against new wage and pension cuts in the country's 2014 budget and demanded the resignation of the government.

The protesters want Portugal's Constitutional Court to reject the 2014 budget bill which includes the cutbacks needed to meet the terms of the country's international bailout.

The center-right government hopes the budget, published earlier this week, will lead the country out of its European Union/IMF bailout and allow a return to the debt markets.

But these goals could be jeopardized by the Constitutional Court, which has the power to block key spending cuts, especially those related to planned wage and pension cuts in the public sector.

"Let's fight so that the measures in this budget are declared unconstitutional," Armenio Carlos, the leader of the country's largest union, the 750,000-strong CGTP, told a rally in Lisbon, where protesters, standing in pouring rain, chanted "Government - out!"

"Hunger is unconstitutional" read a placard carried by one elderly protester complaining about dwindling pensions.

Carlos also called for a new protest rally in Lisbon on November 1 to demand an early election and an end to the austerity measures.

Another rally with thousands of participants also took place in Porto, the country's second largest city.

Portugal's president can decide to send the budget to the Constitutional Court and also political parties or groups of citizens can request that court check its compliance with the constitution.

The Constitutional Court has already rejected some government austerity measures over the past year and a half, forcing it to come up with alternatives. Protesters on Saturday urged conservative President Anibal Cavaco Silva to reject the bill and send it to the court to be shot down.

Cavaco Silva could send the budget to the court for checks before the end of the year after it is approved in parliament, where the government has a solid majority. If he does not, the leftist opposition has vowed to challenge it anyway, although that procedure is likely to extend well into 2014.

The government has insisted there is no alternative to cutting public sector wages and pensions and that the path of painful austerity of the past two and half years has started to bear fruit as the country has just started to emerge from its worst recession since the 1970s.

(Reporting By Andrei Khalip. Editing by Jane Merriman)