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Portuguese roil under strict austerity plan

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The nation of Portugal has revealed details of its draft 2013 budget. It's being called the strictest and harshest in recent memory, with a raft of tax hikes and spending cuts. There have been street protests in major cities such as Lisbon, and that's only expected to increase.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "The proposed budget is the only one possible ... we don't have any room for maneuver," Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar said.

Many angry, dissenting voices have been heard in the recent days. Socialist Party Leader Antonio Jose Seguro declared the budget "a fiscal atomic bomb." For the Communist Party, it amounts to a "massacre."

The main trade union CGTP said it was "an attack on the dignity of the people." Daily newspaper Diario Economico denounced the cuts as "an insult to the Portuguese people."

Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, who comes from the Social Democrat Party of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, has expressed concern. "In current circumstances, it is not right to require a public deficit target from a country undergoing a process of budget adjustment which it is respecting come what may," he said on his Facebook page.

The new measures which are a condition of debt-rescue funding, includes four percent surtax and a reduction in pensions and social benefits.

Finance Minister Gaspar confirmed that the average tax rate would climb from 9.8 percent this year to 13.2 percent under the budget proposal.

The tax rate has also been increased, reducing from eight to five the number of bands for income tax, with the top rate of 48 percent kicking in at 80,000 Euros, nearly half the previous level.

"The 2013 government budget is a tough one for Portuguese," the minister said. "The increase in the tax burden is very significant."

A poll last week suggested that 70 percent of the people oppose the government's policy.

The current trouble stems from the time in May of 2011, when the IMF and EU rescued Portugal from impending debt meltdown with a bailout worth $100 billion conditional on budget and structural reforms.

The International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank, the so-called troika of creditors, have agreed to ease the targets for reduction of the public deficit.

This must now be 5.0 percent of output this year and 4.5 percent in 2013. But this concession was conditional on extra measures.

Accustomed to a simple lifestyle, the traditionally tough, stoic Portuguese, who up to now seemed to accept the need for austerity, have radically changed their attitude. Many predict weeks and months of social unrest ahead for the country.

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