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Germany

Austerity plan spurs thousands to protest in Germany

Up to 25,000 Germans took to the streets of Stuttgart and Berlin on Saturday to protest the government's austerity package. This comes as the opposition is turning up the heat on Merkel's coalition government.

Demonstrators in the southern German city of Stuttgart

Thousands of Germans took to the streets to voice their anger on Saturday

In the German cities of Berlin and Stuttgart, around 25,000 demonstrators marched through the streets to voice disapproval of the federal government's recently announced austerity package, which consists of cuts primarily in the social-welfare and family-services sectors.

The march was organized by trade unions and left-wing opposition groups under the motto: "This Is Not Social Justice."

Police estimated that up 10,000 marched in the southwestern city of Stuttgart while organizers in Berlin said between 15,000 and 20,000 people took to the streets there.

Protesters carried banners saying "The crisis is called capitalism" and "Employment, human rights, a secure future for everyone."

In the face of widespread criticism of the austerity measures which are supposed to bring Germany's deficit within European Union limits by 2013, Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected charges that the country's poor were being unfairly burdened.

Chancellor Angela Merkel at press conference

Chancellor Angela Merkel is getting heat from all sides over her budget-cutting plans

"People must realize that we have to save money and reduce debt," Merkel said in an interview to be published on Sunday in the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag weekly, adding that the "measures in the job sector aim to bring significantly more long-term unemployed back to work than in the past."

She added that the package - which looks to slash federal spending by at least 80 billion euros ($96 billion) by 2014 - was evenly distributed throughout the country's sectors.

"Alongside the necessary cuts in the social-welfare budget, business is also making a contribution along with the civil-service and administrative departments," she said.

But a new poll by Infratest dimap showed that 79 percent of Germans thought the savings package was not socially balanced and 93 percent thought measures were not enough to meet the government's savings goal.

Opposition demands snap elections

Germany's opposition, led by the Social Democrats (SPD), intensified its criticism of Merkel's center-right coalition, with SPD parliamentary leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier even calling for snap elections on Saturday.

"This government is a failure and once they accept it, the tidiest solution would be a snap general election," Steinmeier told the daily Bild newspaper.

German Social Democratic Party faction chairman Frank-Walter Steinmeier addresses German parliament

Steinmeier's Social Democrats demand snap elections

Steinmeier said the government was in "deep crisis" and accused Merkel of trying to hold on to power at all costs.

"I'm worried that this government will simply try to muddle through," he said.

The former foreign minister was referring to the politically uncertain situation Germany finds itself in following the surprise resignation of President Horst Koehler, also a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, last month.

Political analysts in Germany are calling it critical for Merkel's government to have her candidate, Lower Saxony State Premier Christian Wulff, chosen as president, which in itself is a largely ceremonial post.

An electoral college is set to meet at the end of the month to decide between Wulff and the opposition's candidate, Joachim Gauck, a widely respected figure.

Author: Gabriel Borrud (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Kyle James

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