Thousands rally against poverty in Portugal

LISBON (AFP) - Thousands of people on Saturday rallied in the streets of Lisbon to protest rising poverty resulting from the government's belt-tightening measures.

The anti-poverty march was organised by Portugal's leading union, the CGTP, and capped about a week of protest activities that have been held throughout the euro zone country.

"Unemployment in Portugal is a national disgrace" and "a minimum wage increase is a necessity" protesters chanted.

They also called for the resignation of the government whose pledges to straighten out Portugal's finances in return for a 78-billion-euro (S$126.5 billion) bailout have been deeply impopular.

Spurred by cutbacks in public spending, unemployment soared in the fourth quarter of last year to 16.9 per cent. The economy contracted by 3.2 per cent in 2012.

Last week, the constitutional court ruled that several measures in the 2013 budget were unlawful, which will make it difficult for the government to reduce the public sector deficit to 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product, a condition for European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout funds.

The court rebuff means that the government needs to find another 1.3 billion euros elsewhere to plug the gap.

On Friday, euro zone finance ministers agreed on giving Portugal an extra seven years to repay its loans, but the deal implies deep cuts in several Portuguese sectors, including in healthcare services, social security and education.

The new austerity measures will be presented to Portugal's troika of international lenders: the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank, on Monday.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.