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Tens of thousands protest in Spain against austerity

Rallies in dozens of cities across Spain have been held to protest government austerity measures. Unions are calling for a referendum and threatening a general strike.

The main rally was held in the capital, Madrid, with up to 60,000 people turning out in the sunshine to express their opposition to the government cuts.

The rally attracted protestors from more than a hundred organizations, including unions. The participants walked behind a main banner which read: "They want to ruin the country. We have to stop them."

Agustin Moreno, who teaches in the Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas told the Reuters news agency: "I'm a teacher and they've really cut back in education - there are fewer resources, fewer teachers and more students. We will do everything we can. We will keep protesting."

Spain's overall jobless rate is nearly 25 percent and youth unemployment is over 50 percent. Placards reading "youth without jobs, society with no future" were carried to make the demonstrators' point.

Toward a general strike?

Spain's biggest union, Comisiones Obreras (CO), said last week a general strike could be organized for November 14. Labor unions said they would call a general strike if the government did not hold a referendum on the unpopular spending cuts.

Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, the CO's leader said: "It's up to the government whether there's a general strike or not. If they were going to hold a referendum things would be completely different."

A survey in El Pais newspaper on Sunday showed 77 percent of Spaniards support the protesters. More than 90 percent think protests will become more frequent.

Right to protest

The right to protest has become a moot point following the arrest of 35 people in demonstrations on September 25 which left 64 people injured.

The ruling People's Party (PP) said laws on protest should be tightened up.

A police case against protest organizers was thrown out of court last week as judges said people had a right to express their opinions.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced a further 13 billion euros of budget cuts in September.

His party faces regional elections in Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia in the coming weeks.

jm/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)