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Europeans protest austerity measures

Tens of thousands of people across the European Union take part in a massive protest in Brussels against government budget cuts and austerity measures.

General strike in Spain disrupts air, train and bus travel

Tens of thousands of people across the European Union took part Wednesday in a massive protest in Brussels against government budget cuts and austerity measures.

The march coincided with a general strike in Spain. Protests or strikes also occurred in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia and Lithuania.

Notes from the field:

"What you have in Madrid this morning is small bands of strikers marching through the streets, stopping at government offices and companies and trying to shut them down," CBC's Tom Parry said from Madrid.

"The strikers have been shouting at people as they go into their workplaces, trying to get them to join the strike," Parry said.

"Now, the success of the strike has been mixed, at best. Flights into and out of the country have been disrupted, and bus service in Madrid has been almost shut down. But trains were running on reduced service in the city this morning and people have been making their way into work."

"A lot of people have just stayed home, but a lot of people who have made the effort to get into work aren't happy with the strikers. But the strikers say they are out here because they have to protest the Spanish government's austerity measures."

"It is not right that people on low salaries have to pay to prop up the country. It should be the banks," Evelain Foncis, a Belgian protester.

The march in Brussels came just as the EU Commission is proposing to punish member states that have run up deficits to fund social programs in a time of high unemployment across the Continent.

The proposal, backed by Germany, is running into opposition from France, which wants politicians to decide on appropriate sanctions, rather than adhere to rigid rules alone.

"It is a bizarre time for the European Commission to be proposing a regime of punishment," said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, which organized the Brussels march.

"How is that going to make the situation better? It is going to make it worse," Monks said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

In Spain, workers rallied outside of train stations and prevented trucks from delivering produce as part of a protest against austerity measures imposed by a government struggling to slash its budget deficit and overcome recession.

The unpopular cuts have helped Spain trim its central government deficit, but the unemployment rate is hovering around 20 per cent, and many businesses are struggling to survive.

Spanish airline Iberia said it expected to operate only 35 per cent of its scheduled flights as some air traffic controllers and ground crews honoured the strike call, while Ryanair said passengers on flights to and from Spain will only be permitted to carry hand luggage because many workers who handle checked luggage are expected to strike.

Transit was also disrupted in Greece, which had to be rescued by the EU this spring to stave off bankruptcy and has also been forced to cut deep into workers' allowances.

Greece has already held a series of rallies to protest the cuts and French workers recently held protests in response to a government plan to reform the pension system.

In Dublin, a man blockaded the entrance to the Irish Parliament to protest the expensive bailout of Anglo Irish Bank.

With files from The Associated Press

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