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  • Workers angry over spending cuts and tax rises protest in a coordinated day of action.
  • General strikes in Spain and Portugal, significant walkouts in Greece and Italy
  • Transport disrupted: hundreds of flights grounded; severe reductions in rail services
  • Protesters say the cuts will compromise livelihoods and increase unemployment

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A wave of anger over austerity is sweeping across Europe as workers fed up with government spending cuts and tax rises take to the streets in a coordinated day of action.

General strikes are under way in Spain and Portugal, and there are significant walkouts in Greece and Italy. Limited protests are also planned in other countries, including France and Belgium.

Transport across the continent is being disrupted by the strikes. Hundreds of flights have been grounded, and there are severe reductions in intercity rail services and local transit systems.

Protesters say the cuts will compromise livelihoods and increase unemployment. Clashes have taken place between police and protesters at previous demonstrations in Greece and Italy, and less frequently in Spain.

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The strikes have been called by the European Trade Union Confederation, which represents 85 separate organizations across the continent. "Austerity is a total dead end, and must be abandoned. Social protection and wages can no longer be sacrificed," it said on its website.

"This is a social emergency, and it is time to listen to what the citizens and workers have to say, and to change course."

In Greece, 2,000 civil servants took to the streets on Tuesday over the economic pain they are suffering. In the last two years alone they have seen their wages shrink by up to 40%.

One unemployed civil servant Evangelia Katsaropoulou explained why she planned to join the protests. "I have two children, they're twins, and the situation is tragic," she told CNN.

"What I want to say to everyone is that they have to come onto the streets and shout so that these measures do not take place."

The International Monetary Fund and the European Union are debating whether and when Greece can receive its next bailout payment.

Protesters, such as pensioner Thimios Marvitsas, hope to remind them that they are the ones bearing the burden of austerity. "All these measures they are pushing us back 50, 60 years," he said.

"They are cutting our pensions in half, there is a million unemployed, more taxes. In other words our lives are just getting worse and worse."

In Portugal, months of quiet resignation have turned to anger and discontent. A combination of severe tax increases -- and rising unemployment -- have made social unrest the norm and protests are expected in Lisbon on Wednesday.

Unemployed Pedro Barroso explained the reason for the unrest. "You see people participating in demonstrations more and more. The social awareness is noticeable. This year we had more demonstrations than in the last 20 years!"

On Monday several hundred people took to the streets as German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the Portuguese capital to rally morale. Many held banners saying: "Merkel, you're not welcome."

In Spain this will be their second general strike in a year. The country's two largest unions have plenty to protest about with unemployment standing at more than 25% and cuts from health to education.

Nuria Manzano, from the UGT union explained why it was important for workers to support the action. "The cuts aren't limited to Spain. They are happening in the whole European Union.

"That's why it is important that all Europe protest against these cuts and against this way to do politics."

But despite the recent violent social unrest and the rise of suicides blamed on increasing financial hardship the government is sticking to its fiscal plan. Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy said: "I said I would lower taxes, but I am raising them, I haven't changed my criteria nor will I decline to put them down when possible, but circumstances have changed and I must adapt to them."

Even Italy, which has so far been on the sidelines of Europe's austerity protests, will see demonstrations as it comes face to face with fiscal responsibility.

"This is a government that is destroying all the rights to social services with the excuse of the European Union," said one demonstrator, Felice Nardi.

"We believe that the voice of the workers should finally be heard because they are the ones suffering. There have been a series of measures that are really bringing the people to ruin."

On Monday, with youth unemployment approaching 35%, 3,000 students vented their anger as Merkel visited Prime Minister Mario Monti. "We are students and our future is at stake and we need to do something," said one student, Chiara. "If we don't do something, who will?"

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