Hundreds of pharmacies in southeastern Spain have closed their doors in an open-ended strike to protest over the Valencia regional government’s failure to settle its debts. Two thirds of the 2,200 pharmacies in the Valencia region joined Monday’s strike to draw attention to the "dramatic situation that pharmacies in Valencia are suffering," AFP quoted a spokesman for the regional College of Pharmacists as saying. The spokesman noted that the regional government owed the pharmacies 450 million euros ($575 million) for the medicine they dispensed under the public health system between May and September, adding that up to five hundred pharmacies in the region would face closure if the money is not paid. The protesters also urged the central government to step in and help the indebted Valencia regional government pay its bills.
Pharmacists are "demanding from the central government the kind of rescue that the banks have had, to get out of this situation, because the Valencia region says it has no cash," the pharmacy group's spokesman said.Spain's 17 autonomous regions manage their own budgets and are responsible for health and education policies and other areas of public spending. Battered by the global financial downturn, Spain’s economy collapsed into recession in the second half of 2008, taking with it millions of jobs. Despite the fact that the demonstrations against the austerity measures and labor reforms have been getting larger, the Spanish government is sticking to its guns, saying the austerity measures are needed to get the country through the crisis. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s proposed 2013 draft budget is expected to slash overall spending by 40 billion euros ($51.7 billion), freeze the salaries of public workers, and reduce spending on unemployment benefits. MN/HGL