Thousands in Belgium austerity demo

 

Tens of thousands of protesters have marched through Belgium's capital to protest against new austerity measures brought on by Europe's financial crisis.

The march - organised by the three main trade unions - protested over the budget cuts which will be forced through next year to get the country's deficit within 3% of GDP and meet targets set by the European Union.

The unions specifically oppose the extension of early retirement, cuts in unemployment benefits and the social security budget.

Union leaders are to meet Elio Di Rupo, the Socialist leader who pushed through the budget measures and is set to be sworn in as prime minister on Monday.

Union leaders estimated between 60,000 and 80,000 protesters marched through the streets of Brussels, choking city centre traffic which was compounded by a partial transport strike around the country.

"It shows how much the workers and the welfare recipients of this country want to have their voices heard by the coming government and say one more time that austerity is not the solution, it is the problem," Anne Demmelen, general secretary of the FGTB socialist union said.

Beyond excessive noise from firecrackers and horns, no incidents marred the rally.

The march came on the heels of Thursday's protests in the Greek capital, and Wednesday's two million-strong demonstrations across the UK - showing a groundswell of labour discontent as the financial crisis grips the continent, forcing governments across the board to cut budgets and impose austerity measures.

Mr Di Rupo met European Union President Herman Van Rompuy to explain the measures he planned to push through parliament as soon as his government would be sworn in.

Unions say the grand coalition of Socialists, Liberals and Christian Democrats seek to ride out the financial crisis on the backs of the working class.

They say that if the government does not heed their call for changes in the budget cuts, unions will consider a general strike.

With its high overall debt, Belgium is forced to make cuts, especially since its bond yields have been rising in markets.

PA

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