DUBLIN (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people Saturday joined a mass protest in Dublin against austerity measures needed to secure an international bailout for Ireland, as speculation grew of an imminent deal. Protesters marched through Dublin waving placards reading Eire not for sale, not to the IMF and there is a better, fairer way, denouncing the bailout and calling on Prime Minister Brian Cowen to quit. A spokeswoman for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which organised the march, said about 150,000 people took part. Police put the figure at 50,000. The marchers denounced an austerity package unveiled by Cowens government Wednesday, which signalled major welfare cuts, tax rises and the loss of 25,000 public sector jobs over the next four years to help pay off a massive deficit. Cowen has insisted the measures are needed to secure a bailout worth up to 85 billion euros (113 billion dollars) from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which could be announced as soon as Sunday. We are here to object to the arrogance of the government, ICTU president Jack OConnor told a rally after the march. They want to sign a blank cheque for generations to come. Were not here to pay for the speculators, but were here to insist on a fair plan, he added. EU finance ministers will meet in Brussels on Sunday to discuss the bailout, a French source told AFP, boosting speculation of an announcement before markets open on Monday morning. The loans would target Irelands struggling banks, which were left exposed by the financial crisis and the collapse of a domestic property bubble, and are intended to try to stop the debt crisis spreading to other eurozone nations. But there is widespread anger in Ireland at the bailout and voters dealt Cowens Fianna Fail party a humiliating by-election defeat on Friday, which cut the FF/Green Party coalitions parliamentary majority to just two. Why should we pay for the banks? ... The euro is on its way out, said Esther Hoad, 48, a civil servant who drove 180 miles (290 kilometres) on frozen roads to join the Dublin protest. She added: I dont think its going to make any difference, but Im here because we have a voice. About 700 police officers were deployed for the march, which took place in bitingly cold temperatures. It passed off largely peacefully, although a handful of protesters at the end threw bottles and snowballs at police. The march converged on the General Post Office, the scene of Irelands declaration of independence in 1916, and a highly symbolic site for critics of the bailout who say it is eroding Irish sovereignty. Cowen has been fighting off calls from opposition lawmakers to quit over his handling of the economy, insisting he must see through the austerity package and the budget to secure the bailout. Media reports suggested Ireland might be charged 6.7 percent interest on the nine-year loans, significantly more than the 5.2 percent rate charged to fellow eurozone country Greece when it was bailed out earlier this year. Michael Noonan, finance spokesman for the Fine Gael main opposition party, said the reports were very disturbing, adding: This rate is far too high and is unaffordable on any reasonable projection of growth. Opposition Labour party leader Eamon Gilmore called for bondholders to share the cost of the bailout, saying: The Irish people cannot afford to keep paying for the mistakes of the bankers, and of the government who propped them up. Cowen has refused to call an election until lawmakers have passed the budget, which is unlikely to be before January. However, his position was further weakened by Fridays by-election in Donegal, a one-time Fianna Fail stronghold which was taken by the opposition socialist Sinn Fein party.