Until a few months ago, Portugal was seen as a role model in the grinding euro zone crisis, adopting deep spending cuts and raising taxes to reduce its deficit without the outcry, protests and strikes that austerity policies have set off in other Southern European countries. International lenders praised the Portuguese government even as they arranged a 78 billion euro bailout for the country last year, following similar deals with Greece and Ireland.
But the belt-tightening helped push Portugal deeper into one of Europe’s longest recessions — and the Portuguese have now joined the ranks of Europe’s discontented, even coordinating a general strike with workers in neighboring Spain earlier this month.
The hard times have also created strains within the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho. Still, the government managed to pass a stiff new austerity budget with steep tax increases on Tuesday, even as protesters demonstrated angrily outside the Parliament building.
Such protests and work stoppages have become much more common over the past year, as daily life for many Portuguese families has become a struggle to stay afloat. Pay is being cut for government and private-sector workers alike, the unemployment has risen to nearly 16 percent, retirees face higher health costs and students will pay more for tuition without any assurance that their degrees will lead to jobs. In fact, many graduates are packing their bags to emigrate instead.
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