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Thousands rally in Spain protest austerity measures

Tens of thousands of people have converged on Spain's capital Madrid to protest against a swathe of crippling government austerity measures. The measures have been designed to avert the need for a European bailout.

Demonstrators banged drums and blew whistles on Saturday as they made their way to Madrid's Plaza Colon square to rally against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's latest round of austerity policies. The crowd was stopped by police as they attempted to enter the headquarters of Rajoy's People's Party.

Over 1,000 buses transported protesters from across the country to take part in Saturday's rally, organized by Spain's two leading trade unions, CCOO and UGT, in association with hundreds of citizens and professional organizations.

"We want to say loud and clear to the government that we do not agree, that its policies cause too much damage, that we will not resign ourselves because there are alternatives," CCOO head Ignacio Toxo told the rally.

In a bid to avoid a full-scale bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Rajoy's conservative government has announced budget cuts worth more than 100 billion euros (120 billion dollars).

In July the government reduced public sector workers' pay by roughly seven percent and increased sales tax. Jobless benefits were also cut, angering a nation where employment stands at 25 percent. Organizers warned that the measures are mainly hitting the middle and lower classes and should be put to a referendum.

Madrid has already accepted a eurozone rescue loan of 100 billion euros to save the country's ailing banks. The government is seeking to reduce Spain's budget deficit from 8.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 to 2.8 percent by 2014.

ccp/jr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)