Pictures

Thousands protest against austerity in Italy, Portugal

Members of the Guardia di Finanza protect themselves as they stand in front of the Economy minister during an anti-austerity protest on Oct 19, 2013 in Rome. -- PHOTO: AFP
Members of the Guardia di Finanza protect themselves as they stand in front of the Economy minister during an anti-austerity protest on Oct 19, 2013 in Rome. -- PHOTO: AFP
Members of the Guardia di Finanza protect themselves as they stand in front of the Economy minister during an anti-austerity protest on Oct 19, 2013 in Rome. -- PHOTO: AFP
Members of the Guardia di Finanza protect themselves as they stand in front of the Economy minister during an anti-austerity protest on Oct 19, 2013 in Rome. -- PHOTO: AFP
Guardia di Finanza hold shields in front of the Ministry of Finance building during a protest in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Guardia di Finanza hold shields in front of the Ministry of Finance building during a protest in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A protester clashes with Guardia di Finanza as they respond to a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A protester clashes with Guardia di Finanza as they respond to a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters clash with Guardia di Finanza during a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters clash with Guardia di Finanza during a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters clash with Guardia di Finanza during a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters clash with Guardia di Finanza during a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Guardia di Finanza policemen hold shields as protesters throw flares during a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Guardia di Finanza policemen hold shields as protesters throw flares during a protest in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A protester clashes with a Guardia di Finanza policeman in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
A protester clashes with a Guardia di Finanza policeman in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
A protester clashes with a Guardia di Finanza policeman in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A protester clashes with a Guardia di Finanza policeman in front of the Ministry of Finance building in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Members of the Guardia di Finanza protect themselves as they stand in front of the Economy minister during clashes on the sidelines of an anti-austerity protest on Oct 19, 2013 in Rome. -- PHOTO: AFP
Members of the Guardia di Finanza protect themselves as they stand in front of the Economy minister during clashes on the sidelines of an anti-austerity protest on Oct 19, 2013 in Rome. -- PHOTO: AFP
Members of the Guardia di Finanza protect themselves during clashes on the sidelines of an anti-austerity protest on Oct 19, 2013 in Rome. -- PHOTO: AFP
Members of the Guardia di Finanza protect themselves during clashes on the sidelines of an anti-austerity protest on Oct 19, 2013 in Rome. -- PHOTO: AFP
A demonstrator throws a bottle at Guardia di Finanza during a protest in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Italy and Portugal for mostly peaceful protests against austerity on Saturday, but there were cla
A demonstrator throws a bottle at Guardia di Finanza during a protest in downtown Rome, Oct 19, 2013. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Italy and Portugal for mostly peaceful protests against austerity on Saturday, but there were clashes in Rome outside the finance ministry. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Italy and Portugal for mostly peaceful protests against austerity on Saturday, but there were clashes in Rome outside the finance ministry.

"We are laying siege to the city!" a group of students chanted as they marched through Rome, while others waved rainbow peace flags and held up banners from a variety of leftist movements.

"We are protesting a one-way austerity that is bringing the country to its knees," said Mr Piero Bernocchi from Italy's Cobas trade union group.

"And it hasn't achieved what it was meant to by bringing down debt," he said, adding: "Meanwhile politicians continue with their privileges."

Italy is struggling to shake off a two-year recession that has pushed unemployment to record levels, shut down thousands of businesses and forced many young Italians to leave the country.

"The government cannot hide behind a few burnt rubbish bins and a smashed-in window," said Mr Paolo Ferrero of the Communist Refoundation party.

"It needs to answer the demand to abandon austerity and answer a generation that is not being offered anything at all," he said.

Fifteen people were detained during the protest in Rome and some 100 militants were seen throwing rocks at police guarding the finance ministry, who charged and chased them into side streets.

Two police officers were injured in the clashes.

The window of a branch of UniCredit bank, Italy's biggest lender, was also smashed in by protesters and the hacker group Anonymous took down several institutional websites to coincide with the rally.

Police at one stage during the protest kept apart rival groups of far-left and far-right militants and bomb disposal experts were called to the scene when a flash thunder grenade containing a bullet was found outside the headquarters of the state railway.

Organisers said 70,000 people took part, while police put the number at around 50,000. Between 3,000 and 4,000 police officers were deployed.

Police had seized potential weapons including chains, helmets, clubs and cobblestones and detained 14 people ahead of the protest.

Many local shops in the area stayed shuttered.

The demonstration in Rome brought together various groups including migrant rights advocates, campaigners for affordable housing and protesters against a new high-speed rail link in the Alps.

They later rallied near the infrastructure and transport ministry, which they blame for failing to ensure enough public housing and wasting money on large-scale construction projects.

As night fell, protesters began setting up tents near in an unsanctioned part of the protest on Porta Pia Square.

Some protesters had spent the previous night camped out on a different square after a demonstration and strikes on Friday.

Meanwhile in Lisbon, thousands of protesters boarded around 400 buses that were rented especially to get around an interior ministry ban on marching on foot across the city's famous April 25 bridge.

"Government out!" and "Liars, liars, we want new elections!" they shouted, voicing exasperation over an austerity programme in place in Portugal for over two years as part of its bailout deal.

In Porto, the capital of the northern part of the country, organisers said that "between 50,000 and 60,000 people" were taking part in a protest there, but police put the number at 25,000.

"This is a great day of struggle," said Mr Armenio Carlos, secretary general of the CGTP, a trade union confederation close to the Communist party.

This was the first major street mobilisation seen in Portugal since the government unveiled its budget plans on Tuesday, which will hit public servants and pensioners.

Among the most contested measures is a plan to cut civil service salaries by between 2.5 per cent and 12.0 per cent, as well as reducing pensions for former civil servants by 10 percent.

The cuts would not apply for salaries or pension payments below 600 euros (S$1,017) gross a month.