Holding red cards and banners, thousands of military personnel marched through the streets of Lisbon on Saturday, protesting the austerity measures and budget cuts imposed in Portugal.
Wearing civilian clothing, with some proudly displaying their medals, an estimated 5,000-10,000 active and retired soldiers rallied against "unjustified cutbacks" in the 2013 budget.
They called for Portuguese President Aníbal António Cavaco Silva to veto the controversial austerity budget adopted by the government. They marched quietly, carrying banners calling for respect for the military and for "national sovereignty."
Some banners read, “Police are unhappy, military are unhappy, people are unhappy”.
With some officers complaining that their monthly wages have been cut by as much as 25%, one soldier told AFP, "We are getting cut after cut and there is no light at the end of the tunnel."
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Military protest in Lisbon, Portugal on November 10, 2012
Sergeant José Paulo Leitão said, “The 2013 budget proposes we make higher payments for medical care, although the service is worse. We pay more for less.”
According to retired navy officer, Armenio Teodoro: “All the soldiers – not just me – have the right to receive our pension with dignity, because they discounted the money from our salaries. Now I ask, where’s our money? Where’s the money we paid for so many years?”
Other reasons for the protest are the decline in finances for maintenance and training, as well as the cuts in the social sphere and tax hikes.
Several associations which represent the military called on Portugal's Constitutional Court to review the legality of next year's budget. The court ruled in July against a finance law, and told the government to revise the measure, which stripped bonuses from civil servants. The court argued that it violated constitutionally-guaranteed rights to equal treatment. Now the protesters hope to receive a similar outcome with the austerity budget.
Portugal received a €78-billion bailout package in 2011 from the Troika, comprised of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Now austerity measures are needed to keep within this package. Lisbon must lower its budget deficit to 3% of GDP by 2014. According to Eurostat, thanks to austerity measures, the economy is expected to shrink by 3% in 2012, while unemployment is around 15.7%.
Euronews is reporting that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised Lisbon's efforts to reduce the deficit. Merkel is due to visit Lisbon on Monday.
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Military protest in Lisbon, Portugal on November 10, 2012 - “Police are unhappy, military are unhappy, people are unhappy”.