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Spanish police beat protesters after anti-austerity protest

Thousands of protesters gathered near the parliament building in Madrid over the cuts.

Part of the protest in Madrid today
Part of the protest in Madrid today
Image: AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

SPANISH RIOT POLICE beat protesters with batons and hauled some into vans earlier today as thousands rallied near parliament in Madrid to decry biting austerity cuts.

Police wearing helmets charged demonstrators and struck some protesters with batons after they tried to break down metal barriers protecting the lower house, the Congress of Deputies.

The clashes, shown live on national television, broke out in the evening as riot police backed by officers on horseback enforced a perimeter round the parliament building.

Officers surrounded police vans parked in the nearby Plaza de Neptuno square to keep at bay demonstrators who had rallied to vent their anger at the government’s handling of an economic crisis.

“Government, resign,” chanted many of the demonstrators before the violence broke out.

“Fewer police, more education,” cried others.

Many held their hands up in the air and jeered: “Hands up, this is a robbery”, an allusion to their complaint that the poor are paying for the crisis while bankers get bailed out.

The demonstration was organized by the “indignants” a popular movement against what its followers say is a political system that deprives Spaniards of a voice in the crisis.

(Photo: AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

“They have robbed us of our democracy,” said 53-year-old shopkeeper Soledad Nunes from the northwestern region of Castile and Leon, wearing two red carnations and carrying a sign reading: “Do you really think you can fix this by folding your arms?”

“We have lost our freedom, our welfare system with the cuts to health and education,” she complained. I have two daughters and this year I had to pay a lot more for their studies.”

Nunes said business had slumped at her clothing shop, blaming the conservative Popular Party government’s austerity measures.

Aitor Llorens, a 27-year-old unemployed computer programmer, said the protests should be bigger.

“With everything affecting us we should be 100 times more people here. People are beginning to get resigned to it. They feel they can do nothing, that it does not matter which party is in power,” he said.

“The politicians are only interested in big companies and what the markets want.”

The economic crisis, blamed on the collapse of a speculation-driven real estate boom, has plunged Spain into recession, throwing millions out of work and many families into poverty.

But protesters say government policies, including pay cuts and sales tax rises to rein in the public deficit, hurt the poor unfairly.

They blame the crisis on corruption and financial and European political systems that they brand unjust.

The offering of a loan of up to €100bn by Spain’s eurozone partners to rescue the country’s stricken banks has fanned their anger.

Clashes have broken out on the fringes of several mass protests in Spain over recent months, with police firing rubber bullets and beating demonstrators with batons.

Spanish media reported that 1,300 police officers were deployed for Tuesday’s demonstration.

The “indignados” are also known as “May 15″, the date protests over the handling of the crisis broke out in 2011. That month activists camped for weeks in the central Puerta del Sol square.

- © AFP, 2012

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