Dubliners flock to protest against price of EU bailout

DUBLIN - More than 100,000 people took to the streets of Dublin yesterday to protest against the international bailout for Ireland and the four years of austerity it will mean.

As European officials thrashed out details of an €85 billion ($150.2 billion) rescue package that could be rubber-stamped by finance ministers as early as today, huge crowds braved freezing temperatures in central Dublin to demonstrate against the cuts aimed at driving down Ireland's colossal national debt.

The main march to O'Connell St was peaceful, but there was an uneasy stand-off outside the Irish Parliament as two lines of police hemmed in about 100 leftwing demonstrators who had broken away from the trade union-organised protest.

Fireworks were thrown at officers guarding the gates of the Dail as the protesters shouted: "Burn it down, burn it down."

Extra police were rushed to the scene to surround the demonstrators, who also set fire to a picture of the Prime Minister, Brian Cowen.

Protesters in the main march were angry that most of the €80 billion-plus from the EU and the International Monetary Fund will be used to shore up Ireland's banks.

Builder Mick Wallace, who has laid off 100 of his workers because of the construction industry crash, said the Irish should be more militant. "We are far too quiet. We should be more like the French and get on to the streets more often."

Jimmy Purdy, 77, was at the demonstration, outside Dublin's General Post Office, scene of the 1916 Easter Rising. "I have lived through three recessions and I think this could be the worst one."

Sources said negotiators were keen to announce a rescue deal before financial markets open for the new week.

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