Spanish miners hurl rocks at cops in protest

2012-07-11 19:30

Madrid - Coal miners threw rocks, bottles and firecrackers at riot police who fired rubber bullets in the Spanish capital on Wednesday as tens of thousands protested mining subsidy cuts.

Clashes between young protesters and charging police resulted in 23 light injuries, including 12 demonstrators, six police, three onlookers and two journalists, emergency services officials said.

A band of demonstrators rained down projectiles including firecrackers, glass bottles and rocks on riot police who protected themselves with their shields.

Police could be seen chasing some of the protesters and firing rubber bullets into the air to disperse others.

"There was a police charge in front of the industry ministry," said a Madrid police spokesperson. Officers backed by dozens of police vans were seen deployed outside the building.

Five people were arrested, police said.

Police charged

A few hundred metres way, another group of several dozen protesters outside Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium were seen throwing stones and drinks cans at riot police.

Police charged to try to detain one of them.

"Out, out," shouted protesters. "These are our weapons," they cried, raising their hands to the sky.

Jeffrey Fernandez Sanchez, 27, a miner from Leon, said he saw the violence. "The police provoked them so there would be trouble," he charged.

Hundreds of miners who had hiked more than 400km over two weeks from northern coal regions were joined by masses of workers from other sectors, the vast majority of whom were peaceful.

"Join all our struggles with the miners," read one banner hoisted in the crowd outside the Industry Ministry.

Some of the miners at the rally had emerged the previous day from more than a week spent underground in the pits to protest the drastic cuts to state support on which the industry depends.

Violent clashes had already broken out between miners and police in more than a month of protests in the northern mining towns over Madrid's decision to slash coal industry subsidies this year to €111m from €301m last year.

Politicians blamed

Unions say the cuts will destroy coal mining, which relies on state aid to compete with cheaper imports, and threaten the jobs of around 8 000 coal miners and up to 30 000 other people indirectly employed by the sector.

Carlos Marcos, 41, a miner from the town of Ponferrada in Leon who came on one of the hundreds of coaches that brought protesters into the Spanish capital, welcomed the broad support from other workers.

"It is impressive because the government never pays us any attention. The real cancer in this country is the politicians," Marcos said.

Like other miners, he criticised Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government for refusing to help miners more, even as it doles out rescue money to crisis-hit Bankia and other lenders.

"For the miners they can't find €200m but for Bankia there is €23bn," Marcos said.

As the miners rallied, Rajoy announced to parliament a €65bn austerity package to rein in spiralling debt, including a rise in value added sales tax.

Vicente Nunez, a 42-year-old steel worker, said he came from Asturias to demonstrate in support of the miners as he walked with a group in black shirts and the Asturias flag, which is light blue with a yellow cross.

"We work in the metal industry. It is all a chain, we all depend on each other," Nunez said.

"I have never seen a situation like this. We had crises in '92 and '98 but this time there is no future, no solutions.
This schism in society is going to be bigger, more conflictual," he predicted.