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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 April, 2004, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Europe's pensioners hit streets
Protests in front of the Colosseum
Pensioners converged on Rome from all over Italy
Hundreds of thousands of people across Europe, many of them elderly, have marched in protest at plans to reform welfare systems.

In Rome, pensioners arrived on buses, special trains and even boats from the island of Sardinia to demonstrate against the rising cost of living.

Various German cities saw people march against welfare cuts introduced to combat economic stagnation.

And in Paris they demanded more jobs and social justice.

Across Europe governments are trying to find ways to pay pensions to ageing populations, or to cut back on expensive social provision.

Together in Paris and Europe for jobs, social rights, the welfare state and public services
Banner in Paris

But unions say government plans meant to cut costs and bureaucracy, or reinvigorate the economy, would see jobs lost and people getting poorer.

In Italy, elderly people demanding an increase in their pension payments waved union flags and blew whistles in the spring sunshine as they converged on the centre of Rome.

"There's an impoverishment, a situation that every day becomes more untenable for the elderly," said Guglielmo Epifani of Italy's largest union, CGIL.

Firemen join a protest in Cologne
Workers in Germany are angry at planned reforms
The pensioners were joined on the march by younger people angry at plans to make them work longer before retirement.

Italy has one of the highest proportions of pensioners in Europe, and pays them more than most of its neighbours.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's attempts to tackle these issues - which have helped make Italy one of the most indebted countries in Europe - have prompted fierce opposition.

German cuts

Police said more than 400,000 people marched in Berlin, Cologne and Stuttgart, following the German government's proposals to save money by cutting pension payments.

In Paris, demonstrators marched through the city centre behind a banner reading "Together in Paris and Europe for jobs, social rights, the welfare state and public services".

The turnout was smaller than in Italy and Germany - police put it at 5,000 - but French voters have already registered their discontent, with a landslide defeat for the government last month being attributed to anger at economic reforms.

The BBC's Frances Kennedy
"Pensioners say they are hardest hit by the rising cost of living"

Italians protest at pension reforms
24 Oct 03  |  Business
Italians tighten their belts
24 Oct 03  |  Europe
Italy 'must face pension reform'
29 Sep 03  |  Business
Italy slides into recession
08 Aug 03  |  Business

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