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Thousands in Madrid call for general strike

Anti-austerity protest ends in clashes with police

THOUSANDS of demonstrators from across Spain gathered in Madrid’s main Colon Square on Saturday to protest against continuing harsh government austerity measures.

Nine columns of demonstrators, who had been on the march for several days, converged on the plaza.

Organisers hoped to attract 20,000 protesters to the event, labelled Marches for Dignity and on Saturday evening much of Colon Square and part of Paseo de Recoletos boulevard were packed with at least that many people carrying republican flags and banners calling for a general strike.

Protesters decried government financial cuts, draconian housing rights policies and high unemployment rates.

Carrying banners reading “Food, jobs and a roof with dignity. Working for a general strike”, protesters engulfed the area.

Spanish police deployed 1,200 officers to control the protest.

Scuffles broke out after the main rally ended on Saturday night. Riot police clashed with about 200 protesters who attacked a bank and a police car.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced new social welfare support last month and touted his government’s economic record in a bid to woo back disillusioned voters who are increasingly turning to apparently anti-austerity parties in a search for a means to halt incessant cuts.

Mr Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party has been claiming economic recovery ahead of a general election to be held this year, raising the government’s growth forecast for 2015 to 2.4 per cent from 2 per cent.

The prime minister announced several welfare measures recently, including support for single parents, in a parliamentary address peppered with indirect swipes at parties such as the populist Podemos (We Can) party, which is gaining in the polls, and Ciudadanos, a right-wing party which also rails against corruption and unemployment.

Despite ruling party claims, the Spanish economy remains in poor shape, with the unemployment rate hitting 23.7 per cent.

The government has slashed spending on public services as part of its austerity drive.

The “march for dignity” preceded yesterday’s regional election in Andalusia, one of the poorest parts of the country, which is being touted as a test for the populist groups.

by Our Foreign Desk

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