Tens of thousands of students protested against education spending cuts and high youth unemployment in a string of cities on Wednesday. The protests were largely peaceful, but turned violent in Barcelona.
Facing classroom cutbacks and dire employment prospects after graduation, tens of thousands of Spanish university students demonstrated against the country's austerity drive in several major cities on Wednesday.
The young Spaniards staged primarily peaceful rallies in the capital Madrid, Valencia, Castellon and Alicante, while a small contingent of the protesters in the country's second-largest city, Barcelona, eventually resorted to violence.
Riot police charged on a small group of protesters near the Barcelona stock market who had started throwing projectiles and setting fire to garbage containers. Some of the students later regrouped and sought to march on an annual cell phone trade show, the Mobile World Congress, but were thwarted by police.
The protests were also billed as a show of solidarity, after a similar demonstration last week in Valencia was met with what student organizations described as a heavy-handed police response.
The Students' Union said that 70,000 people turned out in Barcelona and 60,000 in Valencia, though police estimates put the protests at roughly half that size.
Austere present, grim future
Regional governments in Spain have full control over healthcare and education spending, most have started implementing cuts in these areas - seeking to help the federal government to reduce spending and avoid the need to call for international loans like Greece, neighboring Portugal or Ireland.
Spain's new conservative government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has announced spending cuts and tax increases worth an estimated 15 billion euros ($20 billion) as it tries to reduce the country's budget deficit. Rajoy has requested that the EU relax Spain's deficit target for 2012, saying the current goal - 4.4 percent of gross domestic product - is unattainable without further cuts that might lead to more public protests.
As well as the austerity measures' impact inside the classrooms, Spanish students are under pressure because of the massive unemployment in the country. National unemployment exceeds 20 percent and almost half of the country's would-be workers aged 16-24 are currently without a job - according to data from the EU's statistics agency Eurostat.
msh/av (AP, dpa, Retuers)