Anti-austerity marches turn violent across southern Europe

Wed Nov 14, 2012 5:41pm EST
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By Feliciano Tisera and Daniel Alvarenga

MADRID/LISBON (Reuters) - Demonstrations turned violent in Spain and Portugal after millions took part in a mostly peaceful general strike on Wednesday in organized labor's biggest Europe-wide challenge to austerity policies since the debt crisis began three years ago.

In Lisbon, marches ended with a level of violence not seen since the crisis began, with police charging demonstrators who hurled stones and bottles, leaving nearly 50 people hurt.

Protesters in Madrid burned rubbish bins, filling the central boulevard with smoke, while in Barcelona demonstrators burned police cars.

Riot police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in both cities, where more than 140 people were arrested, including two said by police to be carrying material to make explosives, while more than 70 were reported injured.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled, schools were shut, factories were at a standstill and trains barely ran in Spain and Portugal where unions held their first joint general strike. Stoppages in Belgium interrupted international rail services.

Workers also protested in Greece and France against austerity policies that have taken a heavy economic toll and aggravated mass unemployment.

But the demonstrations organized by the European Trade Union Confederation seemed unlikely to force hard-pressed governments to change their cost-cutting strategies.

"In austerity, there is only depression and unemployment," Fernando Toxo, head of Spain's biggest union, Comisiones Obreras, told a packed Columbus Plaza in central Madrid.   Continued...

Policemen watches a flare during clashes with protesters at the 24-hour nationwide general strike near the Parliament in Lisbon, November 14, 2012. Spanish and Portuguese workers will stage the first coordinated general strike across the Iberian Peninsula on Wednesday, shutting transport, grounding flights and closing schools to protest against spending cuts and tax hikes. REUTERS/Hugo Correia