Brussels: Tens of thousands of noisy protesters marched across Brussels on Friday in the latest anti-austerity demonstration to hit a European capital in the debt-saddled continent.
After recent marches in Britain, Greece and Portugal, a sea of people dressed in red and green union colours threw firecrackers, played Rolling Stones tunes and shouted slogans denouncing the incoming Belgian government's budget cuts.
Holding signs such as "don't touch our pensions" and "no to austerity," the protesters flooded the streets days after politicians agreed to trim the public deficit by 11.3 billion euros in a bid to fend off the eurozone debt crisis.
The protesters voiced their discontent as Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo prepared to take the reins of a fragile coalition next week, after politicians struck a deal ending a deadlock that left Belgium without a goverment for a world-record 19 months.
"We are fed-up with paying for the mistakes of bankers," said Anne Delemenne, Secretary General of the FGTB socialist union.
"Instead of scaling down unemployment benefits, we should cut bonuses for traders and dividends for shareholders," she said, adding Belgium had become a "fiscal heaven for the rich and a fiscal hell for those who get up early."
Victor Fetteweis, a postal worker, said the austerity measures were "a great leap backwards".
"We would have liked a wealth tax, not to cause a capital flight, but because the example must be set by the top," Fetteweis said.
Trade unions said 80,000 people hit the streets of Brussels, the seat of the European Union, while police had a lower estimate of 50,000 people. Public transport was disrupted in Brussels with only a few metro and tram lines.
The Belgian march came a day after yet another wave of demonstrations across Greece, the country whose massive deficit and debt sparked the eurozone crisis two years ago.
British unions claimed that up to two million public sector workers went on strike on Wednesday over changes to their pensions after the government responded to slashed growth forecasts with fresh spending cuts.
Last week in Portugal, a general strike forced authorities to cancel nearly all flights in and out of the nation's main airports while thousands of workers descended on Lisbon's streets in anger at a 2012 austerity budget.