News24

Cops fire rubber bullets at Madrid rally

2012-09-26 09:00

Madrid - Spanish riot police fired rubber bullets and baton-charged protesters on Tuesday as thousands rallied near parliament in Madrid in anger at the economic crisis, in clashes that left 14 people wounded.

Riot police in helmets charged to clear thousands of protestors who swamped the Plaza de Neptuno square yelling "Shame!" and "Resign!", addressing the government.

An emergency services official said at least 14 people had been hurt during the protests, including one with a serious back injury. Police said 14 people were arrested.

As police drove hundreds of protestors away down the surrounding avenues, many others sat on the ground on the square refusing to disperse.

Hours after the round of charges, hundreds remained peacefully on the square into the night, watched by a long line of riot police. It was unclear how long they would stay or whether police would charge again to clear them all.

Some protesters earlier tried to break down metal barriers protecting the lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, prompting police to chase and beat them and haul several into vans.

Nearly 25% unemployment

The demonstration was organised by the "indignants", a popular movement against a political system that they say deprives ordinary Spaniards of a voice in the crisis.

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. Unemployment is close to 25%.

Protesters say the policies of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government, including pay cuts and sales tax rises to rein in the public deficit, hurt the poor unfairly.

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.

Tuesday's demonstrators held their hands in the air and jeered: "Hands up, this is a robbery", their regular refrain meaning that the poor are paying for the crisis while bankers get bailed out.

"They have robbed us of our democracy," said 53-year-old shopkeeper Soledad Nunes from the northwestern region of Castile and Leon, demonstrating earlier in the day.

"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."

Carmen Rivero, aged 40, said she travelled overnight in a bus with 50 protesters from the southern city of Granada.

'Protests should be bigger'

"We think this is an illegal government," she said. "We want the parliament to be dissolved, a referendum and a constituent assembly so that the people can have a say in everything."

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."

Similar clashes have broken out on the fringes of several mass protests in Spain over recent months.

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.