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Archive for Sunday, November 2, 2003

Thousands protest German welfare cuts

November 2, 2003

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— About 100,000 people took to the streets of Berlin on Saturday to demonstrate against Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's plans to trim Germany's generous welfare state, the biggest show of public opposition so far to his drive to revive Europe's largest economy.

Answering the call of labor unions and left-wing groups, including the former East German communist party, a huge column of marchers snaked through downtown Berlin, chanting slogans against the government's plans and carrying banners such as "Poverty for all" and "Why take from the rich while we've still got the poor?"

"We are both directly hit by these reforms -- we're both unemployed," said Oliver Glomb, a 34-year-old sound engineer marching along with his wife and two young sons between the capital's Alexanderplatz and Gendarmenmarkt squares.

Police and organizers estimated the crowd to be about 100,000, underlining the task facing Schroeder as he tries to counter a jobless rate of more than 10 percent. The size of the protest also could embolden critics within his center-left coalition government, which has only a slender majority in the lower house.

The chancellor suggested he might resign if parliament failed to pass proposed new laws, including cuts in jobless benefits and a reform of the creaking state-run pension system.

Dubbed "Agenda 2010," the package also includes putting more pressure on the unemployed to take available positions and an expansion of part-time work. The government says the package will ease the pressure on employers, who joint-fund many programs, releasing funds for investment that could lift the economy after three years of near-zero growth.

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