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Lisbon subway shuts in anti-austerity protest

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BARRY HATTON | October 31, 2013 08:57 AM EST | AP

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Lisbon subway workers walked off the job Thursday for the fifth time this year to protest government austerity measures being enacted in return for Portugal's 2011 bailout.

The 24-hour subway strike coincided with the start of a parliamentary debate on the government's 2014 state budget proposal, which aims to slash another 3.9 billion euros ($5.3 billion) — about 2.3 percent of gross domestic product — off state spending.

Debt-heavy Portugal is battling to regain its credibility on financial markets before its 78 billion-euro international aid package comes to an end mid- next year and it must start borrowing again from private investors. At the same time, Lisbon has to abide by the demands of its bailout creditors — other countries using the euro currency, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — who want to restore Portugal's fiscal health and resolve the eurozone's protracted debt crisis.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho told Parliament his center-right coalition government's budget proposal is "the country's passport" to a bailout-free future.

The government has enough votes in Parliament to approve the spending plan despite resistance from opposition parties and trade unions. However, it could be foiled by the Constitutional Court, which previously has struck down some planned pay and pension cuts.

Next week, walkouts are expect at national train services and Lisbon buses and ferries. Government workers are staging their own national strike on Nov. 8.

Under the budget proposal, government workers earning more than 600 euros ($825) a month will have their pay cut by up to 12 percent, while pensions higher than 600 euros a month will be reduced by 10 percent.

Workers at state-owned companies, including those in the public transport sector, will also see cuts to their pensions, overtime pay and entitlements such as subsidized meals.

In neighboring Spain, minor delays were reported Thursday for travelers as unions staged a 24-hour transit strike. The walkout, one of eight days of partial and 24-hour stoppages, was to protest the planned breakup of the state-run Renfe rail company and the rail infrastructure company Adif.


Ciaran Giles contributed from Madrid.