Portugal's fragile consensus over bailout austerity measures has disintegrated further as 150,000 protested in Lisbon and Porto. Spaniards, too, packed central Madrid, saying policy alternatives were possible.
In Lisbon, some protesters threw tomatoes at the local bureau of the International Monetary Fund, which together with the EU and the European Central Bank (ECB) granted Portugal a 78-billion-euro ($102 billion) bailout package last year.
At the rally, billed under the motto "to the devil with the troika," protesters also chanted "out of here, IMF is hunger and misery!" They called for the resignation of the center-right coalition government of Social Democrat Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.
The rally ended near the Spanish embassy, where the Portuguese expressed solidarity with similar protests held in Spain on Saturday. Portuguese also rallied in Porto and the town of Averio, where a man set himself on fire. He survived with burns, officials said.
Since last year's bailout, Portugal's official unemployment rate has risen to 15 percent amid tax hikes and spending cuts. Portugal's reform course had been billed as a success, with the troika agreeing only last Tuesday to relax Portugal's deficit targets for 2012 and 2013.
Cross-party support fragile
On Thursday, however, the main opposition Socialists threatened to end cross-party support for the bailout by voting against Coelho's 2013 draft budget. They demanded that his government drop its plan to raise the social security levy on all workers from 11 to 18 percent.
On Saturday, many protesters said they hoped the government would rethink its draft budget, while two surveys showed the Socialists overtaking Coelho's liberal Social Democrat party (PSD) for the first time since Portugal's June 2011 election.
Foreign Minister Paulo Portas, who heads coalition government's rightist CDS-PP party, told the Expresso weekly newspaper on Saturday that he would withstand the criticism.
"I will not throw the country into an irresponsible political crisis," Portas said.
Too much social "damage"
In Madrid at least 65,000 teachers, health and social services workers and even policemen in blue T-shirts packed the capital's Plaza Colon. They arrived in buses provided by the trade unions CCOO and UGT and 150 smaller organizations.
CCOO head Ignacio Toxo told the rally that the Spanish government's policies were causing "too much damage." Toxo added that Spaniards would not submit to them "because there are alternatives."
In July, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government eliminated public workers' Christmas bonuses, amounting to a 7 percent cut in annual pay. That came on top of a cut in public workers' salaries of about five percent in 2010. One in four of Spain's workforce is out of work.
The cut was one element in austerity measures worth 102 billion euros ($126 billion) to be implemented by 2014 to reduce Spain's public deficit.
Visiting Cyprus, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said the measures were vital to avoid a bailout like the ones imposed on Greece, Ireland and neighboring Portugal.
"Sacrifices are absolutely unavoidable if we are to correct the difficult economic climate we are experiencing and lay the foundations for a recovery," de Guindos said.
Earlier this year, Spain accepted a rescue loan of up to 100 billion euros confined to saving its banking sector, which is still reeling from a 2008 property market crash.
ipj/ch (Reuters, AFP, dpa)