Massive anti-austerity rallies took place in Spain and Portugal over the weekend as EU finance ministers bickered in Cyprus over bank regulation.
Police put the size of the huge Madrid rally at 65,000, though demonstrators said the true figure was far higher.
Marchers carried banners declaring: "They are ruining the country and we have to stop them."
EU-mandated austerity measures following the collapse of a banker-driven property bubble have sent Spain's economy into a tailspin and seen unemployment soar to 25 per cent.
Union confederation CCOO leader and president of the European Trade Union Confederation Ignacio Fernandez Toxo said the government's policies were destroying any chance of growth.
"It's a lie that there isn't another way to restore the economy," he said, calling for a referendum on PM Mariano Rajoy's austerity and bailout plans since they had nothing in common with his election pledges.
Marching firefighter Carlos Melgaves said: "We've had our pay cut. We don't get the training and equipment we need.
"There are more students and fewer teachers in our children's classrooms and health care is also being cut. We can't take it any more."
Buses transporting protesters blocked several major roads in the capital ahead of the protest, which was led by the CCOO and the General Workers Confederation.
At a 50,000-strong protest in Lisbon demonstrators threw tomatoes and fireworks at the IMF's headquarters in the country.
Portuguese PM Pedro Passos Coelho recently raised workers' social security contributions from 11 per cent of salary to 18 per cent - equivalent to the loss of a month's pay each year. At the same time he reduced contributions due from corporations.
Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar has said he will raise income taxes next year and cut Christmas and holiday bonuses from public-sector workers and pensioners.
But EU finance ministers meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus, showed no sign of heeding the popular anger.
Spain's Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said cutbacks were "absolutely unavoidable."
The ministers had gathered to discuss the creation of an EU-wide banking supervisor with wide-ranging powers but negotiations were deadlocked at the weekend.
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