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General strike hits transport in Portugal

Published on 14/11/2012

A general strike against the centre-right government's austerity programme hit air and rail transport across Portugal Wednesday, part of a wave of protests across several European countries.

The national airline TAP has already cancelled 173 out of 360 flights scheduled for Wednesday.

Many trains were also idle and the capital Lisbon’s metro service was out of service from midnight on Tuesday, as the action got underway. Ferries that normally carry commuters across the river Tage in the capital were operating only a skeleton service.

Hospital staff also joined the action, with participation reportedly as high as 90 percent in some places. The capital’s rubbish collection service had ground almost entirely to a halt.

The country’s main trades union confederation, the CGTP, called the strike, the second since March, joining protests in several European countries against public-spending cuts. Workers across the border in Spain also launched a general strike Wednesday.

The strikes in the two countries were “…a strong sign of discontent and a warning to the European authorities,” said the CGTP’s general secretary, Armenio Carlos.

“The aim of this strike is to demand answers to the problems of the Portuguese and one of the priorities is a change of policy,” he added.

In the streets of Lisbon, demonstrators took the streets carrying banners denouncing the troika of international creditors.

The CGTP has called marches and rallies in some 40 towns and cities around the country, with the main gatherings expected to be in Lisbon and the northern city of Porto.

The so-called “Indignant” movement of anti-austerity activists and dockers who have been on strike for several months now are expected to join the Lisbon rally.

Experts from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank are reviewing Portugal’s progress in pushing through the cuts required in return for the 78-billion-euro ($101-billion) bailout granted in May 2011.

The previous general strike in March had a limited impact, but since then, resentment towards the public-spending cuts that are an integral part of the austerity programme has grown.

Hundreds of thousands of people also turned out across the country for anti-austerity protests in mid-September.

While the UGT, the country’s second-largest union confederation, did not back Wednesday’s action, about half of the 50 or so of its affiliated unions did call stoppages, as did several independent unions.