(Edited from AP, Brussels)European unions orchestrated a crescendo of anti-austerity protests across the continent Wednesday, sending workers ranging from Greek doctors to Spanish bus drivers to Lithuanian engineers out to vent over job cuts, higher taxes, soaring unemployment and smaller pensions.

One man even blocked the entrance to the Irish parliament with a cement truck, decrying the country’s enormous bank bailouts with blood red slogans like “Toxic Bank” and “All politicians should be sacked.”

(Edited from AP, Brussels)European unions orchestrated a crescendo of anti-austerity protests across the continent Wednesday, sending workers ranging from Greek doctors to Spanish bus drivers to Lithuanian engineers out to vent over job cuts, higher taxes, soaring unemployment and smaller pensions.

One man even blocked the entrance to the Irish parliament with a cement truck, decrying the country’s enormous bank bailouts with blood red slogans like “Toxic Bank” and “All politicians should be sacked.”

Waves of demonstrators clad in bright red, green and blue union jackets marched through Brussels toward European Union buildings, aiming to reinforce the impact of Spain’s first nationwide strike in eight years.

Unions estimated the turnout in Brussels at 100,000 people. Some protesters there confronted riot squads with a sit-down protest in the middle of the street. About 150 people were detained, some in scuffles with police.

Strikes or protests took place Wednesday in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia and Lithuania, all aimed at the budget-slashing, tax-hiking, pension-cutting austerity plans that European governments have implemented to try to control their debt.

The march in Brussels came as the EU Commission proposed new penalties to punish member states that have run up deficits, mainly to fund social programs in a time of high unemployment. The proposal, backed by Germany, was running into strong opposition from France, which wants elected politicians, not rigid accounting rules, to decide on what sanctions big spending countries should face.

“It is a bizarre time for the European Commission to be proposing a regime of punishment,” John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, told Associated Press Television News. “How is that going to make the situation better? It is going to make it worse.”

Unions fear workers will become the biggest victims of an economic crisis set off by bankers and traders, many of whom were rescued by massive government intervention.

Several governments, already living dangerously with high debt, were pushed to the brink of financial collapse and have been forced to impose punishing cuts in wages, pensions and employment – measures that have brought workers out by the tens of thousands over the past months.

The strike in Spain on Wednesday was the country’s first general one since 2002 and marked a break in the once-close relationship between unions and the Socialist government.

Greece, which had to be rescued this spring by the 15 other nations that share the euro currency just to stave off bankruptcy, also has been forced to cut deep into workers’ allowances, with weeks of bitter strikes and actions as a result.

Greek bus and trolley drivers walked off the job for several hours and Athens’ metro and tram systems also shut down. National railway workers walked out, disrupting rail connections across the country, while doctors at state hospitals went on a 24-hour strike.

In Dublin, police arrested a 41-year-old man who blocked the Irish parliament with a cement truck but gave few other details.

His slogan on the truck – “Toxic Bank” Anglo – referred to the Anglo Irish Bank, which was nationalized last year to save it from collapse. The bank owes some euro72 billion ($97 billion) to depositors worldwide, leaving Irish taxpayers with a mammoth bill at a time when people are suffering through high unemployment, tax increases and heavy budget cuts.

In Slovenia, thousands of public service workers continued their open-ended strike to protest the government’s plan to freeze their salaries for two years – or until the economy grows again at a rate of 3 percent.

In Portugal, a country with one of the euro zone’s most fragile economies, about 20,000 people took part in an evening demonstration in Lisbon, unions said.

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