Mass rally in Spain over govt. cuts
Demonstrators protest against the Catalonia regional government's austerity cuts, Barcelona, Spain, January 28, 2012.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in Spain's northeastern city of Barcelona to protest at spending cuts hitting major services in the Catalonia region.
The protesters chanted anti-government slogans and held banners reading “Let's stop the spending cuts. No to the financial dictator,” as they marched from Catalonia Square to La Ciutadella Park on Saturday.
The demonstration comes as Catalonia's regional parliament is debating cuts worth EUR 625 million for its 2012 budget, in an attempt to contain its deficit by 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product.
“We hit the streets to say no to these unfair cuts that are not inevitable. There are other budgetary policies that do not harm the citizens or workers,” said Josep Maria Alvarez, the head of Spain's UGT (Union General de Trabajadores) union.
The UGT, the second largest union in Spain, represents a wide range of public sector workers and pensioners.
The cuts are expected to include tax raises and lowered public servant salaries. The Catalan government, which is held by the nationalist Convergence and Union parties, has cut public spending in the region by 10 percent since it took power in November 2010.
The rally was attended by members of the police, firefighters, hospital staff, prison guards and teachers. While authorities put the turnout number at 15,000, most media outlets said at least 125,000 showed up.
Meanwhile, the latest unemployment rate released by Spain's National Statistic Institute on Friday showed a record high of 22.85 percent, with 5.27 million people out of work.
“I have been unemployed for one year now and with no prospect of finding a job because the news says there are 5 million people unemployed, and logically at my age, it's quite complicated,” said an unemployed woman in Madrid.
Regional governments in Spain are under pressure from the central government to lower the country's deficit to avoid a debt crisis.
Hit by the global financial downturn, the Spanish economy collapsed into recession in the second half of 2008, leading to the loss of millions of jobs.
There are fears that more delays in resolving the country's deficit could lead Spain into a debt crisis that has already forced heavily indebted countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek financial bailouts.