Spaniards protest as crisis outlook darkens

Madrid - Thousands of jobless Spaniards marched through Madrid Saturday in the latest angry demonstrations against economic crisis cuts, as fears rose for the country's financial stability.

Young people thrown out of work by the recession converged on the capital, many of them having hiked hundreds of miles from around Spain, and walked through the city's central avenues, waving banners and whistling.

"Hands up, this is a robbery!" they yelled, their regular refrain over recent days of protests.

"Everyone get up and fight!"

It was the latest in a string of protests that have erupted since Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced 65 billion euros ($80 billion) in fresh austerity measures on July 11, including cuts to pay and unemployment benefits.

"I am very disappointed and angry," said Alba Sanchez, 25, who had come by car from the northeastern region of Catalonia to join the demonstration.

"People cannot allow all these cuts by this government that hates us."

The crowd marched peacefully to the sound of drums and trumpets and stopped at the Puerta del Sol square, the symbolic hub of numerous social protests, where demonstrators sat down and held a popular assembly.

On Thursday hundreds of thousands of demonstrators massed there after a mostly peaceful protest march that ended with police firing rubber bullets to disperse small groups of protestors.

Protestors say the efforts to cut Spain's deficit target the poor unfairly and will depress the recession-hit economy further.

"They pee on us and tell us it's raining," read one yellow sign waved by the jobless protestors on Saturday.

"I can't tighten my belt and drop my trousers at the same time," read another.

Rajoy's measures raise sales tax (VAT) and cut benefits for the newly unemployed after six months from 70 percent of basic salary to 50 percent. Previously, the reduction had been to 60 percent.

"That's the final blow. They're cutting benefits to those who aren't working and raising VAT, which affects people who work," said protestor Rafel Ledo, who had walked 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the northern Asturias region.

Saturday's protests came as Spain's economic and financial outlook darkened. The government cut its economic growth forecast for 2013 from 0.2 percent growth to a contraction of 0.5 percent.

Stricken by the bursting of a construction bubble in 2008, Spain is struggling in its second recession in four years. Unemployment is running at more than 24 percent.

Also on Friday Valencia, one of Spain's indebted regional authorities, reached out for emergency aid from a fund of 18 billion euros set up by the central government for struggling regions.

In response, the Madrid stock exchange plunged by 5.8 percent.

A eurozone rescue deal for Spanish banks finalised by finance ministers on Friday provided no relief.

The return on Spanish 10-year bonds jumped above the 7.0 percent danger level and another key measure, the difference between the yields on Spanish and safe haven German bonds, moved dangerously high, topping 600 points.

The indicators revived warnings that the banking bailout may not be enough to stabilise Spain's finances, a key concern for the future of the eurozone.

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