Serbians rally against IMF austerity plan
Thursday 30 April 2009
TEN thousand Serbian workers demonstrated in central Belgrade on Wednesday against an austerity plan designed to meet International Monetary Fund conditions for a 3 billion euros (£2.69bn) bail-out loan.
As legislators passed a budget plan consisting of a public-sector wage freeze, higher income taxes, higher excise duties on petrol, diesel and natural gas and higher taxes on mobile phone bills, protesters flanked by riot police marched by the parliament building carrying banners reading: “We are hungry” and “Down with the government.”
Passing the government’s Privatisation Agency and Finance Ministry buildings, they shouted: “Thieves, thieves.”
Alliance of Independent Trade Unions leader Ljubisav Orbovic warned that “the government will create a small circle of profiteers and a huge number of losers.”
Mr Orbovic described the government’s approach to the economic crisis as “slow, wrong and inefficient,” slamming the apparent lack of “vision or strategy.”
And he warned politicians that the rally was a “final warning” that workers will not stand by silently as they “destroy our economy and Serbian citizens.”
Stressing that there were already a million jobless people in Serbia and that this figure was rapidly growing, Mr Orbovic said that workers were running out of patience.
Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia vice-president Dragan Zarubica said that, instead of bashing working people, the government should “downsize itself and cut the number of useless agencies in order to achieve sizeable savings.”
And Ljubisa Nikolic, a metal worker from the southern city of Nis, said: “The government’s measures are half-hearted, selfish, short-sighted and aimed at keeping them in power.
“For months, I haven’t been able to afford a decent meal for my children and the government is imposing more belt-tightening,” Ms Nikolic stormed.
Protesters also cheered Zoran Bulatovic, a union activist from the city of Novi Pazar who cut off his finger and ate it over the weekend to protest against unpaid wages.
The government forecasts that the economy will shrink by 2 per cent this year, but analysts say it could contract by as much as 10 per cent and ministers insist that the country needs the IMF loan to prop up its currency.
The IMF is expected to approve the loan on May 11, but the cash is contingent on Serbia slashing its deficit to 3 per cent of GDP.