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European Austerity Measures Spark Strikes, Demonstrations

Portuguese professional Fire Department 'Bombeiros Sapadores do Porto' are seen during a general strike day protesting the government's austerity measures outside their headquarters in Porto, Portugal, 24 Nov 2010

As governments across Europe tighten their belts, protests and strikes are becoming more common in the region. In Britain, students demonstrated across the country in protest of rising university costs; in Portugal the government's two biggest unions are striking in protest of austerity measures; the Irish government is announcing its four-year austerity plan, a requirement for International Monetary Fund and European Union financial loans and aid.

Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced measures aimed at raising $20 billion through taxes and spending cuts.

"Today we've come to announce a four-year plan between now and 2014," said Cowen. "It's to bring certainty for our people, it's to ensure they have hope for the future. To let them know that while we have a challenging times ahead, we can, and we will, pull through as we have in the past."

Ireland has Europe's worst budget deficit and the economic measures are prerequisites for a international loans from the International Monetary Fund, European Union and other governments, expected to be worth nearly $115 billion. Cowen said Ireland's crisis means its people should pull together.

"It's a time for us to confront this challenge and to do so in a united way. To do so in a way that ensures those who have most will make the most contribution, those who have least will be protected to the greatest extent we possibly can."

The Irish government did not alter its 12.5 percent corporate tax, designed to attract and keep big companies from going elsewhere to do business.

In Portugal, unions went on strike Wednesday in protest of a government budget that freezes pensions and cuts government employee wages by five percent. Manuel Carvalho da Silva, head of the CGTP Union (General Confederation of Portuguese Workers), said the strikes are an expression of indignation and protest, because the government policies that are being practiced by employers, are bringing about a society that is increasingly unfair. As a consequence, he said there is a great impoverishment of Portuguese society.

Here in London and across Britain, thousands of students demonstrated at government offices and universities in protest of a rise in university tuition fees. It's part of the British government's budget cutbacks that also raise taxes and slash government department budgets by about 20 percent.