Spain prepares more austerity, protesters battle police
By Tracy Rucinski and Paul Day
MADRID (Reuters) - Protesters clashed with police in Spain's capital on Tuesday as the government prepared a new round of unpopular austerity measures for the 2013 budget to be announced on Thursday.
Thousands gathered in Neptune plaza, a few meters from El Prado museum in central Madrid, where they formed a human chain around parliament, surrounded by barricades, police trucks and more than 1,500 police in riot gear.
Police fired rubber bullets and beat protesters with truncheons, first as protesters were trying to tear down barriers and later to clear the square. The police said at least 22 people had been arrested and at least 32 injured, including four policemen.
As lawmakers started to leave the parliament shortly after 2100 GMT in official cars or by foot, a few hundred people were still demonstrating in front of the building. Most dispersed shortly afterwards.
The protest, promoted over the Internet by different activist groups, was younger and more rowdy than recent marches called by labor unions. Protesters said they were fed up with cuts to public salaries and health and education.
"My annual salary has dropped by 8,000 euros and if it falls much further I won't be able to make ends meet," said Luis Rodriguez, 36, a firefighter who joined the protest. He said he was considering leaving Spain to find a better quality of life.
With this year's budget deficit target looking untenable, the conservative government is now looking at such things as cuts in inflation-linked pensions, taxes on stock transactions, "green taxes" on emissions or eliminating tax breaks.
The 2013 budget is the second conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has had to pass since he took office in December. Spain must persuade its European partners that it can cut the budget shortfall by more than 60 billion euros by 2014. Continued...