Thousands protest post-bailout water charges in Ireland

Dublin (AFP) - Thousands took to the streets of Ireland Saturday to protest against the introduction of water charges as part of its bailout following the 2008 financial crisis.

In Dublin, an AFP reporter said several thousand people turned out to protest while thousands more joined demonstrations in other cities including Galway on the west coast.

Organisers said they were expecting some 20,000 people in total.

Dublin committed to charging households for water as part of its EU-IMF bailout, announced in 2010, but opposition against the fees has surged ahead of the first bills being sent out in April.

Ireland exited its bailout a year ago and is forecast to be the fastest-growing economy in the EU for 2014 and this year but unemployment remains well above ten percent.

In November, Prime Minister Enda Kenny's coalition government, which came to power in 2011, slashed the charges in the wake of the protests, but opposition remains.

Protestors in the Irish capital chanted: "No way, we won't pay" and "The banks got bailed out, we got sold out." Others carried posters calling for Kenny to resign.

"It's time for this government to stand down. They no longer have a mandate from the people, it's time for them to go," Derek Byrne of the Dublin Says No group, one of the protest's organisers, told AFP.

"The movement has developed into more than just about water, it's about everything -- austerity, the bank bailout, all the cutbacks."

Under the old system, water was paid for through general taxation and services were operated by local authorities.

A spokesperson for the minister of the environment, Alan Kelly, who is spearheading the changes, told AFP there would be "absolutely no change in the government's position."

"We have listened to people's concerns and addressed them and people have certainty, clarity and affordability for charges," he added.

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