Tens of thousands in Spain protest economic policy, corruption

MADRID Sun Feb 24, 2013 8:53am IST

Demonstrators stage a protest against austerity near the Spanish Parliament in Madrid February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Demonstrators stage a protest against austerity near the Spanish Parliament in Madrid February 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Juan Medina

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MADRID (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Spaniards marched through cities across the country on Saturday to protest deep austerity, the privatisation of public services and political corruption.

Gathering under the banner of the "Citizen Tide", students, doctors, unionists, young families and pensioners staged rowdy but non-violent demonstrations as a near five-year economic slump shows no sign of recovery and mass unemployment rises.

"I'm here to add my voice. They're cutting where they shouldn't cut; health, education ... basic services. And the latest corruption scandal is just the tiniest tip of a very large iceberg," said Alberto, 51, an account administrator for a German multinational in Madrid, who preferred not to give his surname.

Protests in Spain have become commonplace as the conservative government passes measures aimed at shrinking one of the euro zone's highest budget deficits and reinventing an economy hobbled by a burst housing bubble.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has introduced some of the deepest budget cuts in Spain's democratic history in an attempt to convince investors the country can weather the economic crisis without falling back on international aid.

But, with more than half of the country's young people out of work and growth not expected until sometime next year, the measures have only scratched the surface of the budget shortfall which is expected to be more than double the target in 2014.

Meanwhile, corruption scandals which have hit the ruling party as well as the once-popular royal family has left many Spaniards disenchanted with their leaders on all sides of the political spectrum.

In Madrid, under a clear, cold winter sky, Saturday's marches convened from four different points by early evening in Neptune Square, between the heavily policed and barricaded parliament, the Ritz Hotel and the stock exchange.

Carrying placards which condemned everything from cuts in the health sector to massive bailouts granted to Spain's banking system, crowds banged drums and chanted, while dozens of riot police stood on the sidelines.

The march coincided with the anniversary of a failed coup attempt in 1981 by Civil Guard officers who stormed Parliament and held deputies hostage until the next day.

(Reporting By Paul Day; Editing by Jason Webb)

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