26 Sep 2012

Rubber bullets fired at austerity protest in Madrid

10:09 pm on 26 September 2012

Police in Spain have fired rubber bullets and baton-charged protesters attending a rally against austerity.

Protesters say government policies, including pay cuts and sales tax rises to rein in the public deficit, unfairly hurt the poor.

The clashes occurred in Madrid on Tuesday as protesters tried to tear down barriers blocking access to the parliament in the capital.

Demonstrators - known as Indignants - say "Occupy Congress" is a protest against the kidnapping of democracy, the BBC reports.

Spanish media report that at least 20 people had been arrested and 13 injured in the clashes, as police tried to prevent demonstrators gaining access to Congress.

Thousands of people had massed in Plaza de Neptuno square in central Madrid for the march on parliament. But their route towards the building's main entrance blocked off by metal railings, police vans and hundreds of riot police.

The economic crisis, blamed on the collapse of a speculation-driven real estate boom, has plunged the country into recession, throwing millions out of work and many families into poverty.

Provinces have piled pressure on the government with a possible new bailout request and an early election.

Andalucia is considering asking for a €4.9 billion emergency credit line from the central government, a spokesperson for the regional administration has confirmed, while other regions - Catalonia, Valencia and Murcia - have already said they will seek emergency funds.

In Catalonia, President Artur Mas called an early election for 25 November, which the BBC reports will be a de facto referendum on his demands for greater independence for the province.

There is real concern in Europe that Spain may need an international bailout going beyond the €100 billion pledged by eurozone finance ministers in June this year to rescue its banks.