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17 Sep, 2016 14:16

Thousands defy rain to join anti-TTIP and anti-CETA rallies in Germany

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Germany on Saturday to raise their voices against pending free trade deals the EU wants to seal with the US and Canada.

The demonstrations in seven major German cities attracted at least 100,000 protesters, Deutsche Welle reported, citing the German police. 40,000 people braved heavy rain to march through the streets of the German capital. In Hamburg, 30,000 showed up for the protest, while Cologne saw 18,000 demonstrators. Rallies also took place in Frankfurt, Leipzig, Munich, and Stuttgart.

The protest was organized by various groups who see the two major free trade deals, which the European Union is expected to sign with the US and Canada, as a threat. Critics says the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) benefit big corporations and undermine national governments’ ability to protect their citizens by enforcing environmental standards, safety requirements, and other rules.

“The problem we see is that this is not a fair deal and it is not transparent. They are attempting to find special exemptions for big corporations. These exemptions do not comply with the law and they are also being negotiated behind closed doors,” one of the protesters told RT.

“Many people are concerned that it will be the race to the bottom when the lower standards will be [applied] to everyone,” another protester said.

At the same time, several anti-TTIP/CETA rallies were also held in Austria. The largest was held in Vienna and saw some 25,000 protesters attending, according to its organizers, while police said that the number of demonstrators was “significantly lower” than expected, adding that only 3,000 people had initially gathered for the rally.

The protest started at around 2:00pm local time (1:00p, GMT) at Vienna’s central Karlsplatz square. The demonstrators then marched through the city center waving flags and holding banners that read “Stop TTIP/CETA” and “people and environment before profit.”

They also brought a giant wooden sculpture of a Trojan horse symbolizing the free trade deals that the EU is expected to sign with the US and Canada. Protesters then staged a second rally in front of the Austrian parliament.

Similar demonstrations were held in Linz, Salzburg, Graz and Innsbruck. They were organized by a coalition of trade unions, NGOs, environmental organizations and Church associations, and attended by politicians from the Austrian Social Democratic Party and the Green Party. Police said that the demonstrations were peaceful.

Outgoing US President Barack Obama led the push to have TTIP signed before leaving office next January, defending the deal in Europe during a tour this year. The effort, however, may prove futile, as skepticism over the agreement has grown over the years. Several German and French officials have publicly expressed doubt recently that the terms of the controversial agreement can be settled anytime soon.

CETA, the deal with Canada, was finalized in 2014, and is expected to be signed in October.