Belgians march in protest against looming austerity

BRUSSELS Fri Dec 2, 2011 11:26am GMT

Protesters carry placards as they march through central Brussels December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Protesters carry placards as they march through central Brussels December 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Belgians marched in protest in central Brussels on Friday against austerity measures an incoming government has said are vital to keep Belgium's public finances under control.

Leaders of unions, which organised the demonstrations, said more than 50,000 people had gathered on a mild but damp morning in the Belgian capital. Police said it was too early to give an estimate on the numbers attending.

Belgians face cuts to unemployment benefit, limits on early retirement and spending reduced or frozen in the public sector.

"This is a demonstration by workers against austerity measures which are blind. We have been given a budget which is unfortunately not balanced," said Bernard Noel, national secretary of the CGSLB union.

The demonstration included metal workers, public service employees, workers from the brewing industry, builders and teachers, most dressed in green, red or blue, the colours of the three main unions in Belgium.

"The austerity should be paid by those who created it, the banks, the financiers," said Pierre Dellamaria, a 43-year-old laboratory technician.

The Brussels protests follow a wave of demonstrations across the Europe Union in recent months as cash-strapped workers feel the pinch from swingeing cuts imposed by governments grappling with the ongoing debt crisis which has rocked the trading bloc.

Six-party talks to form a new government concluded on Thursday, almost 18 months after a parliamentary election.

Belgium needs to save 11.3 billion euros (9.6 billion pounds) next year to bring its budget deficit below the EU limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product.

The government is likely to be sworn in on Monday.

"Everything is too expensive. We have had a government from yesterday, but I'm not sure if this will really change anything," said Laurence Willems, a 29-year-old Brussels teacher.

(Reporting by Ben Deighton; Writing by Philp Blenkinsop; Editing by Sophie Hares)