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Thousands protest austerity in Portugal as PM mired in tax scandal

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By Joanna Gill  with AFP
Thousands protest austerity in Portugal as PM mired in tax scandal

Thousands of people took to the streets of Lisbon in a day of protest against austerity and called for the government to step down

The demos rolled out across several main cities in Portugal against the government’s austerity policies which continue in order to restore the country’s economic health.

Portugal exited its bailout last May, but the government has resisted the temptation in an election year to ease up on reforms begun as part of its international loan deal. The annual budget for 2015 showed that the government intended to cut its budget deficit to 2.7 percent by the end of the year.

Trade unions argue that the country is in worse shape than before the international loan deal.

It comes as the centre-right Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho weathers a financial scandal. He has come under fire for failing to pay his taxes on time, a charge he denies.

“I don’t have any debts to the tax service and if in the past, in relation with the fiscal administration, I declared and paid taxes past the deadline, I had to pay fines and interests like any other citizen,” he said.

However, some media reports say he still owes 5,000 euros in back taxes.

It comes as a gift to the opposition Socialists in an election year, with the latest opinion polls showing them edging ahead of the ruling coalition.