Demonstrations have taken place across Europe against the austerity measures imposed by governments in the wake of the financial crisis.

Around 100,000 protesters, according to unions, staged the biggest Brussels march in a decade and riot police barricaded EU headquarters as marchers from 30 countries joined the backlash against brutal spending cuts.

Spain mounted a first general strike since 2002 and thousands more also rallied in cities from Portugal to Poland, although leaders such as France's Nicolas Sarkozy pressed on with a ‘historic’ attack on soaring overspending.

The focus of the marches was the Belgian capital, where a sea of marchers snaked past heavily-guarded banks and designer stores to say ‘No to austerity’.

Unions said a target of 100,000 demonstrators would be exceeded, but police - who estimated 80,000 in advance - were unwilling to offer a count as the giant cortege crossed half of the city.

This was the first co-ordinated rejection of the austerity measures that has swept across nearly all European countries since the financial crisis spread from the US.

Millions of jobs have been lost, pay and pensions have been cut, and austerity measures have cut into a range of public services.

In France, millions have already taken to the streets against pension reform, while in Spain thousands have marched against unemployment and reform of the labour market.

Demonstrations took place in Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland and Portugal.

The main union message is that ordinary people should not have to bear the burden of mistakes made by banks and governments, and that more austerity will strangle any economic recovery.

But governments appear determined to hold firm, knowing that the markets are watching, and that market anxiety has already deepened the economic crisis.

More than 200 people attended lunchtime protests in Galway organised by SIPTU health workers and the lobby group ‘Galway Says No to Health Cuts’.

Campaigners held a demonstration outside the offices of Anglo Irish bank before joining the trade union rally in Eyre Square.

Organiser Detta McLoughlin said the group wanted to highlight what she called the 'desperate situation' which has been created by the €49m budget clawback announced by the HSE West.