Massive anti-austerity strikes and protests swept across Europe as millions took to the streets to express their frustration over rising unemployment and dire economic prospects. Many rallies ended with violent clashes with police.
Workers marched in 23 countries across Europe to mark the European Day of Action and Solidarity.
General strikes had been called in Spain and Portugal, paralyzing public services and international flights, in Belgium and France transport links were partially disrupted by strikes and demonstrations, in Italy and Greece thousands of workers and students marched through the streets.
Other EU countries, such as Germany, Austria and Poland, saw well attended union-led rallies.
The Europe-wide strike action, the largest in a series of protests against the austerity policies, was coordinated by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and promoted on Twitter under the “#14N” hashtag.
Spain, which has the highest unemployment rate in the industrialized world, pioneered the action, with protests and clashes starting overnight and dozens of arrests reported by morning. According to the unions, some 9 million workers took to the streets across the nation.
Police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Madrid and Barcelona. More than 142 people were arrested and at least 74 injured, including 43 policemen, Spanish police said.
Slogans like “Rajoy Go Home” were chanted by Spaniards outraged over Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s public spending cuts that have led to a 26% unemployment rate in the country.
Leaflets saying “They leave us without future. They are the guilty ones. There are other solutions” could be seen all around Madrid.
Strikes and violent protests gripped Italy, as tens of thousands protesters took to the streets all over the country rallying against Prime Minister Mario Monti’s austerity measures.
Rome became the center of the chaos, as rioting workers and students brought the streets to a standstill when they confronted the police, throwing rocks, bottles and firecrackers at them.
To scatter the protesters police fired teargas and more than 50 people were arrested. At least 17 police officers were injured,
Portugal entered the general strike with anti-austerity rallies in 40 towns and cities throughout the country.
Lisbon froze as people poured into the streets: the subway was shut down, railway strikes left commuters stranded and half of the flights were cancelled.
Thousands of people frustrated by a record 15.8 per cent unemployment rate, gathered in front of the Portuguese parliament building, shouting “The troika does not rule here!”
The clashes broke out as police tried to clear the streets of Lisbon in the evening with protesters throwing stones and rubbish in response.
At least five injuries have been reported by Portuguese police, with one protester taken to hospital. After more than an hour of standoff, the Lisbon demonstrators were dispersed.
After last week’s vigorous 48-hour anti-austerity strike, Greeks gathered in a relatively quiet 5000-strong protest in Athens and called for a three-hour work stoppage in solidarity with the Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese.
People chanted “Athens, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon – everyone in the streets!” as they marched on Syntagma Square carrying flags. There were minor clashes with police, but the demonstration was mainly peaceful.
Meanwhile, in Brussels eggs and firecrackers were thrown at Portugal’s embassy as part of the solidarity protests as crowds of people came to the European Union headquarters to demonstrate.
But although the demonstrations in Belgium were largely peaceful, the unions managed to disrupt transport links as railway workers halted high-speed train services countrywide.
France was hit by 130 rallies against austerity measures, with the French government lashed by the demonstrators.
The French General Confederation of Labor referred to the 14 November strikes as the first “social movement of this scale” in the history of the EU.
The European Day of Action and Solidarity organized under the slogan “For Jobs and Solidarity in Europe. No to Austerity” was meant to deliver a message to EU leaders to stop raising taxes and cutting government spending.
But despite mounting frustration and public anger, the governments of the crisis-stricken EU countries are showing few signs of abandoning austerity, which they believe is the best method to get their economies out of debt and back on a sound footing.