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Merkel Risks Protests In Visit To Portugal

BARRY HATTON

LISBON, Portugal (AP) â¿¿ German Chancellor Angela Merkel took her fiscal discipline message to bailed-out Portugal on Monday, tolerating Nazi jibes from a small group of protesters as she advocated the benefits of austerity and economic reforms.

As in her recent trips to bailed-out Greece and debt-stricken Spain, demonstrators unhappy about tax hikes and pay cuts devised to improve public finances turned their anger on the German leader. Portugal needed a ⿬78 billion ($99 billion) rescue last year when it was engulfed by the eurozone's debt crisis, and living standards have dropped sharply.

A protest march in Lisbon featured dummies with Merkel's face and with T-shirts saying "Adolf Merkel" and including a swastika. Banners said "Merkel Nazi, Go Away!" and, in German, "Merkel Raus" (Merkel Out).

"I think it's wrong what they are doing," said Luis Miguel, an actor who was carrying puppets representing Merkel and Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho. "It's not right what they are taking from the people."

Merkel told a news conference with Passos Coelho she was "not particularly bothered" by the Nazi references, saying people had a right to express their views.

Germany is the eurozone's biggest and strongest economy and contributes more than the other 16 members to bailouts for financially troubled members. In return, it has demanded that rescued eurozone members adopt spending cuts and enact reforms that take away long-standing workers' entitlements in order to improve competitiveness. That has made Merkel a lightning rod for public discontent.

Reactions to Merkel's visit illustrated the split in Europe over how to handle the continent's debt crisis. Merkel and the Portugal's center-right government insist austerity policies must continue. Portugal's main opposition Socialist Party, like French president Francois Hollande, wants a softer emphasis on cuts and greater focus on measures to improve growth. That demand has won broad public support in Portugal.

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