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Germany

100,000 Protest German Reforms in Berlin

Tens of thousands marched through Germany’s capital city on Saturday to voice their opinions against painful cuts to the government-subsidized public healthcare system and reforms to the labor market.

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75 percent of Germans are against the government's reform plans.

The organizers only expected 10,000 demonstrators at Saturday afternoon's protest against the German government’s Agenda 2010 reform plan.

Ten times that number showed up, with close to 100,000 marching and waving signs with slogans like "Schröder the Thief" in a general strike against planned cuts to the public healthcare system and changes in labor market laws that will make it easier for companies to hire and fire.

A loose-knit alliance of anti-reform critics -- including the anti-globalization group Attac, the services union Ver.di and the successor party to the former East German Communists, the Party of Social Democracy (PDS) – organized Saturday’s march.

Attac's Ilona Plattner criticized the planned reforms, which she said would hit the pocketbooks of the poor, the old, the unemployed and ill. At the same time, she said, tax rates for business and the highest-class of taxpayers would shrink.

Reforms unpopular

In a country that has long prided itself on its lavish social welfare system, the cuts, which would introduce co-payments on many services and elimante coverage of dentures and tooth replacement, are proving highly unpopular. Indeed, a recent poll showed that 75 percent of Germans are against Schröder’s reforms, which the government is trying to pass in an effort to kickstart the country’s stagnant economy. But few have spoken out against the reforms as energetically as Germany’s services union, Ver.di.

"We want every person in this rich country to live in the right social conditions and in dignity, not that the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer" said Bernd Riexinger of Ver.di’s Stuttgart chapter.

The protest’s organizers said the event had been a "huge success" and that Germans’ anger over the cuts had fuelled the large attendance numbers.

Berlin police officials said organizers chartered more than 300 busses from all over Germany to ferry protesters to the event, which organizers said marked the start of a season of demonstrations against Schröder’s Agenda 2010 plans.

Offering an alternative

In the run-up to the demonstration, the event’s organizers warned against a lowering of the quality of life for the "masses." Michael Prütz, spokesman for the Berlin Social Forum, told local public radio station Inforadio Berlin-Brandenburg that "it’s time for the rich and super wealthy to be tapped for the financing of our community."

"We have millions of people who earn less than €1,000 net," he said. "No one can say that we live beyond our means."

Prütz’s group also offered its own six-point alternative plan to the government’s social system reforms. The group called for a reintroduction of the country’s wealth tax, no cut in the highest tax rate and the application of a special tax for the wealthy. Additionally, Prütz called for a differentiated sales tax, a reduction in the work week to 30 hours and the creation of jobs in the service and social security industries, all financed by the state.

While it’s unlikely the government would take the alternative proposals tabled at Saturday’s demonstrations seriously, the sheer mass of protesters does underscore how divisive and unpopular Agenda 2010 has proven with voters in this autumn of reforms.

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