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Tens of thousands take to the streets against Irish austerity plans

Thousands of Irish braved the cold in Dublin on Saturday to protest against planned cutbacks as bailout talks continue. Unions said the marches were peaceful.

Placards in Dublin

'Fight for every job, resist every cut' - the message in Dublin

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through the Irish capital Dublin to protest against severe austerity measures announced this week. The government plans to slash the minimum wage and get rid of 25,000 public-sector jobs in an effort to bring its deficit below three percent of gross domestic product by 2014. The state deficit is currently at a crippling 32 percent.

"We are here to object to the arrogance of the government," president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Jack O'Connor told the crowd.

"They [the government] want to sign a blank cheque for generations to come," O'Connor added. "We're not here to pay for the speculators, we're here to insist on a fair plan."

Protesters outside the post office

Protesters rallied outside the General Post Office in Dublin

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) organized the march promising a peaceful, family-friendly event, but police warned that some groups may try to "exploit" the situation and seek to cause trouble. About 700 police officers were deployed on the streets of Dublin.

Widespread anger

Members of the crowd waved placards reading "Eire not for sale, not to the IMF" and "there is a better, fairer way."

The ICTU said about 150,000 people joined the protests while police put the figure at 50,000. Marchers converged on the General Post Office, a highly symbolic site for critics of the bailout. It was the site of Ireland’s declaration of independence in 1916.

As a precondition for a bailout with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, the Dublin government is aiming to save 15 billion euros ($20 billion) over the next four years, mainly through cutbacks and tax increases. The bailout deal could be worth up to 90 billion euros in loans.

By-election defeat

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

Brian Cowen

Prime Minister Brian Cowen is facing record lows in polls

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.

EU finance ministers are expected to meet in Brussels on Sunday to discuss the bailout loans, boosting speculation of an announcement of a deal before markets reopen on Monday morning.

Author: Joanna Impey, Martin Kuebler (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Ben Knight

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