Madrid protest ends in violence as Rajoy presses ahead with austerity

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By a Newsnet reporter

A march in Mardid by Spanish miners in support of Spain’s beleaguered mining industry ended in disturbances on Wednesday evening, with riot police firing rubber bullets and arresting at least eight. 

76 people were reported to have received injuries during the demonstration, 43 demonstrators and 33 police officers.  8 demonstrators and 2 police officers, were injured seriously enough to be admited to hospital.

The Marcha Negra or ‘black march’ was organised by Spanish miners protesting against the withdrawal of government subsidies to the industry, which will result in job losses and pay cuts in Spain’s mining communities.

The miners fear that the 64% cut in subsidies to Spain’s coal mining industry will cause the closure of coal mines.  The march, which began in the mining communities in the northern regions of Asturias, Aragón and Castilla y León, travelled more than 400 km since it began on 22 June, arriving in Madrid yesterday.  The miners hoped to gain the sympathy of the numerous groups in Spanish society who are affected by the brutal austerity programme being implented by the government of Mariano Rajoy of the Partido Popular.  

According to police figures, more than 10,000 people joined the march.  Organisers claim that the turn-out was much higher.  More than 500 coaches had brought family members and sympathisers of the miners from the coal mining regions into Madrid.  Accompanying the marchers were the leaders of Spain’s main trade unions and mayors from the Asturian mining area.  

The miners wished to discuss the cuts with Minister for Industry José Manuel Soria, although the government made no arrangements to send a representative to speak with the protest organisers.

As the protestors were approaching the Ministry of Industry, the marchers chanted: “The enemy is inside” and “We are not terrorists, we are miners.”  Eye witnesses claim that a group of protestors then began to throw stones and fireworks at the riot police guarding the government offices, close to Santiago Bernabéu stadium.  

The police responded by firing rubber bullets into the crowd, and followed this with a baton-charge.  Most of the injured demonstrators are thought to have been struck by rubber bullets.

The Spanish Government has responded by saying that it will not be diverted from its austerity plan, which will cut 65 billion euros in government spending over the next two and a half years.  The Marcha Negra came on the same day that Prime Minister Rajoy annouced a series of measures to the Cortes, the Spanish Parliament, including a rise in VAT from 18% to 21%, job losses and pay cuts in the public sector, cuts to local government funding, and further restrictions in benefits.

Mr Rajoy’s party, the Partido Popular, had previously promised not to raise VAT, however the recommendations from Brussels have not given the Spanish government much room for maneouvre as it struggles to bail out the Spanish banking system.  

Eurozone finance ministers agreed earlier this week to give Spain another year to meet its targets, noting the country’s bleak economic situation. The Spanish economy fell back into recession during the first quarter.  Spanish unemployment already exceeds 5 million.  More than half of the country’s young people are out of work, the highest percentage in the EU.

Announcing the moves, Mr Rajoy said: “I know that the measures that I have announced are not pleasant but they are necessary.”  Adding: “There’s no other way to do it, whether we like it or not.”