German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting Portugal in a show of support for a recent series of austerity measures in the bailed-out eurozone state. Protesters gathered in Lisbon to denounce Germany’s decision to back the harsh reforms.
Dozens of peaceful demonstrators gathered outside the Palace of Belem in Lisbon on Monday, as the German chancellor met with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva.
She also held talks with Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and a conference attended by leading German and Portuguese corporations.
"The program is being applied by Portugal in an excellent manner. It is a great exploit," Merkel said at a joint news conference with Coelho as quoted by AAP.
"My visit is a chance to get to know the country better and to bring hope. I sense a great determination to overcome a difficult situation. Germany wants to support Portugal."
Amidst a heavy police presence, dozens of people displayed banners with slogans like ‘Merkel, no!’ and ‘Get out!’ White- and blue-collar workers joined with city students and dressed in black to ‘mourn’ the German chancellor’s visit.
Germany has praised Lisbon for carrying out economic reforms and spending cuts, which Lisbon agreed last year to enact in return for a 78-billion-euro bailout package. “People can't see the results yet, but the results will come,” Merkel told Portuguese public broadcaster Radiotelevisao Portuguesa in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
Her words did little to quell the simmering public discontent. An open letter signed by over 100 Portuguese academics and intellectuals deemed Merkel a ‘persona non grata’ in the country.
On Monday, leading Portuguese daily newspaper Informacao ran a picture of Merkel on the front page with a caption that read: ‘Hail Angela, those who are about to die salute you!’
A 24-hour general strike has been planned for Wednesday by Portugal's main trade union confederation.
Last month, Portugal’s center-right governing coalition adopted an austerity budget for 2013 that included steep public spending cuts and tax increases. A final vote on the budget, which hopes to generate 5.3 billion euros in revenue primarily through tax hikes, will take place on Tuesday.
Officials from the ‘Troika’ – the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and other EU member-states – are set to begin their sixth quarterly review of Portugal’s implementation of the bailout conditions.
With unemployment rates soaring 16 percent and a third straight year of recession predicted for 2013, Portugal is facing its worst economic crisis since the 1970s.