Photos: Austerity protests stall several European nations
Published: November 14, 2012 11:53AM
Updated: November 14, 2012 11:56AM
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Police clash with demonstrators during a protest against Italian Government austerity measures in Rome, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Workers across the European Union sought to present a united front against rampant unemployment and government spending cuts Wednesday with a string of strikes and demonstrations across the region. Protesters clashed with police in various demonstrations in Rome, Milan, Turin, Padua and Brescia. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of Europe's beleaguered citizens went on strike or snarled the streets of several capitals Wednesday, at times clashing with riot police, as they demanded that governments stop cutting benefits and create more jobs.

Workers with jobs and without spoke of a "social emergency" crippling the world's largest economic bloc, a union of 27 nations and half a billion people.

The protests were met with tear gas in Italy and Spain, but were largely limited to the countries hardest hit by the austerity measures designed to bring government spending into line with revenues. Wealthier nations like Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark saw only small, sedate demonstrations.

Governments backing the line of stringent austerity were not impressed by the show of force.

`'We must nevertheless do what is necessary: break open encrusted labor markets, give more people a chance to work, become more flexible in many areas," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. `'We will of course make this clear, again and again, in talks with the unions."

Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos spoke of "a long crisis that has meant sacrifice and uncertainty," but said: "The government is convinced that the path we have taken is the only possible way out."