Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated across Spain against new austerity measures targeting education and health care spending.

The cash-strapped Spanish government on April 20 approved reforms to scrap free medicine for pensioners and charge students higher fees, aiming to save an extra 10 billion euros ($13 billion) a year.

Spain's two biggest unions, the CCOO and the UGT, said Spaniards marched in 55 cities on Sunday.

"Cuts in health care and education, that's the last straw for us, the working class," said Domingo Zamora, a 60-year-old civil servant in Madrid. "Without that, what's left? We don't even have work."

"They're pushing us to the point of asphyxiation," said another protester, Pilar Logales, also 60.

The protesters carried banners reading "It's a Crime to Cut Health Care" and "People of Europe, Rise Up." One simply read "No."

Many banners bore a drawing of a pair of scissors symbolising the budget cuts.

"These cuts are atrocious," said Alba Sanchez, 30, a journalism graduate.

"I can't find any work and my parents are suffering because both of them are working in the public health sector. Whatever they have obtained in over 30 years of struggle, Rajoy destroyed in a month," he said, referring to cuts pushed through by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Rajoy admitted that "many are those who do not understand the adopted decisions."

"But the problem is the crisis, unemployment, the recession, the mess in the public accounts. These structural changes must be implemented," the prime minister said, stressing that his government will continue the reforms.

Small turnout

Unions put the turnout in a rainy Madrid at 40,000.

In Andalusia, Spain's biggest southern region, unions counted 30,000 protesters while police said there were 11,500.

In Valencia, between 15,000 and 40,000 people assembled, said unions.

In Barcelona, police said 700 demonstrators had gathered, while unions gave a figure of 4,000.

Nevertheless, the overall turnout was small compared with other demonstrations that have hit Spain in recent months, including on March 29 when hundreds of thousands took to the streets.

Unions have called a new demonstration on Tuesday, Labour Day.

Madrid has promised to slash its public deficit to 5.3 per cent of gross domestic product in 2012 from 8.5 per cent last year.

Spain's jobless rate hit 24 percent in the first quarter of this year, with 5.64 million people out of work, its highest level since 1996.

Source: Agencies