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Protests, Strikes Spread Across Europe In Opposition To Austerity Measures

From Spain and Portugal to Greece and Italy and on north to Belgium and Germany, strikes and protests spread across Europe today.

While this is the first time that the protests have gone pan-European, the message hasn't changed: Demonstrators were protesting the austerity measures put in place by many European countries to bring an end to the sovereign debt crisis that has dogged the continent.

"They've only just started cuts but they are pretty draconian already," Andrew Burgin, European officer for the Coalition of Resistance in London, told USA Today during a protest in front of the European Commission offices. "I think this is the beginning of a new movement. It will be a day remembered in history as the beginning of a pan-European movement, possibly an international movement, against capitalism."

The New York Times rounds up some of the demonstrations:

"The strike severely disrupted production across the Spanish automotive sector, with workers staying away from factories owned by Nissan, Volkswagen and other carmakers.

"In Italy, civil servants went on strike and national transportation workers – although not airlines — called for a four-hour halt on Wednesday afternoon. Students demonstrated throughout the country, with rallies in Turin and Rome.

"In Greece, the scene of the most violent social unrest in Europe since the start of the debt crisis, unions called a three-hour work stoppage starting at noon. ...

"A walkout by Belgian rail workers severely disrupted services on the country's Thalys high-speed rail line and halted all its connections to Germany, the rail company said Wednesday."

El País, Spain's largest newspaper, reports that across the country 110 people have been arrested, 15 have been injured and millions have participated in protests and strikes.

"I'm on strike because those who work are basically being blackmailed into sacrificing more and more in the name of debt reduction, which is a big lie," Daniel Santos de Jesus, a 43-year-old prostester in Lisbon told Reuters.

The Guardian reports that French President François Hollande defended the cuts to public spending. Remember Hollande was elected six months ago on promises that he would resist the European Union on steep austerity measures.

But Hollande asked his country to stick with him because "decline is not our destiny."

France, he said according to The Guardian, "should be capable of doing better, in spending less."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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