Many people blame the government's spending cuts and tax hikes for a recession that is forecast to continue for a third straight year in 2013. Unemployment is at 17.5 percent, and the government predicts it will reach 18.5 percent next year.Passos Coelho appealed for understanding. "People of Portugal, I know you are asking whether all the sacrifices will be worthwhile. I can assure you, they are," he said. "The benefits (of austerity) will come," he said. "We cannot give up." He said he is willing to discuss his plans and possible alternatives with opposition parties, trade unions and business leaders. They have all rounded on the government in recent times as the broad national consensus which greeted the initial bailout agreement has frayed. Two years of tax hikes and pay cuts have improved Portugal's fiscal record, even if they hurt growth. Last year, the budget deficit stood at 6.4 percent. In 2010, it was 10.1 percent. Still, more needs to be done to hit the deficit target of 2.5 percent by 2015 and make public finances sustainable in the medium term, Passos Coelho said. "We haven't yet resolved our public debt problem," he said. "We've reduced it, but we need to cut more."