Spanish take to streets over austerity measures
MADRID: Spanish police fired rubber bullets and charged protestors in central Madrid early Friday at the end of a huge demonstration against economic crisis measures.
The protest was was one of over 80 demonstrations called by unions across the county against civil servant pay cuts and tax hikes which drew tens of thousands of people, including police and firefighters wearing their helmets.
“Hands up, this is a robbery!” protesters bellowed as they marched through the streets of the Spanish capital.
At the end of the peaceful protest dozens of protestors lingered at the Puerta del Sol, a large square in the heart of Madrid where the demonstration wound up late on Thursday.
Some threw bottles at police and set up barriers made up of plastic bins and cardboard boxes in the middle of side streets leading to the square and set them on fire, sending plumes of thick smoke into the air.
Riot police then charged some of the protestors, striking them with batons when they tried to reach the heavily-guarded parliament building.
The approach of the the riot police sent protestors running through the streets of the Spanish capital as tourists sitting on outdoor patios looked on.
A police official told AFP that officers arrested seven people while six people were injured.
The protests held Thursday were the latest and biggest in an almost daily series of demonstrations that erupted last week when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced measures to save 65 billion euros ($80 billion) and slash the public deficit.
Among the steps is a cut to the Christmas bonus paid to civil servants, equivalent to a seven-per cent reduction in annual pay. This came on top of a pay cut in 2010, which was followed by a salary freeze.
“There’s nothing we can do but take to the street. We have lost between 10 and 15 per cent of our pay in the past four years,” said Sara Alvera, 51, a worker in the justice sector, demonstrating in Madrid.
“These measures won’t help end the crisis.”
Spain is struggling with its second recession in four years and an unemployment rate of more than 24 per cent.
Under pressure from the European Union to stabilise Spain’s public finances, the conservative government also cut unemployment benefits and increased sales tax, with the upper limit rising from 18 to 21 per cent.