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50,000 take to the streets in Ireland against austerity plans

Irish trade unions and demonstrators are expected to protest planned cutbacks on Sunday as bailout talks continue. The Irish government has been slammed at the polls after announcing its proposed austerity plan.

An Irish euro coin.

Bailout talks are expected to conclude on Sunday

Following Friday's crushing by-election defeat, Ireland's beleaguered government is bracing itself for major protests on Saturday amid a nationwide demonstration against major cutbacks announced earlier this week.

Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to join trade unions in demonstrating against the severe austerity package announced on Wednesday. The government plans to cut the minimum wage and eliminate 25,000 public-sector jobs in an effort to bring its deficit below 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2014. It's now at 32 percent.

"This is the result of allowing speculators, bankers and developers to run riot, pillaging and ruining our economy," said Jack O'Connor, the head of Ireland's biggest union SIPTU, calling the proposed budget the "harshest…since the foundation of the state."

"Our national sovereignty is at stake as a result of the government's policies," he said. "The timeframe for the adjustment is too short. It should be extended to 2017. We must not stand idly by while the final nail is driven into the coffin."

By-election defeat

On Friday, angry voters made their feelings plain at the polls.

The socialist Sinn Fein party won the northwestern constituency of Donegal, previously a Fianna Fail stronghold, as Prime Minister Brian Cowen's Fianna Fail (FF) party suffered a resounding defeat, cutting the FF/Green coalition's parliamentary majority to just two.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen

The opposition is pressuring Cowen to call an immediate general election

Opposition parties pressured Cowen to call an immediate general election. Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said Fianna Fail "has neither the political mandate nor the moral authority to make the crucial decisions the country now faces."

"We didn't buy into the austerity. We're not for the savage cuts," said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. He said the goal was to take power in Dublin and end austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

Cowen has refused to go to the polls until the budget and strict new austerity measures are passed as early as the beginning of December. That process, however, is unlikely to happen before January.

The passing of the austerity plan and 2011 budget is a crucial condition of a planned 85 billion euro ($113 billion) bailout from the European Union and the IMF. Talks on the international aid package, intended to prevent trouble spreading in the eurozone, are expected to wrap up on Sunday.

Author: Martin Kuebler (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Kyle James

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