Spanish riot police have fired rubber bullets at protesters as thousands rallied near parliament in Madrid in anger at the government’s handling of the economic crisis.
Thousands gathered on Tuesday in Neptune plaza, a few metres from El Prado museum in central Madrid, where they formed a human chain around parliament, surrounded by barricades, police trucks and more than 1,500 police in riot gear.
Police fired rubber bullets and beat protesters with truncheons, first as protesters were trying to tear down barriers and later to clear the square. The police said at least 22 people had been arrested and at least 32 injured, including four policemen.
As lawmakers started to leave the lower house of parliament shortly after 21:00 GMT in official cars or by foot, a few hundred people were still demonstrating in front of the building. Most dispersed shortly afterwards.
Some protesters earlier tried to break down metal barriers protecting the parliament, prompting police to chase and beat them and haul several into vans.
The demonstration was organised by the “indignants”, a popular movement against the political system that they say deprives Spaniards of a voice in the crisis.
Protesters were enraged over austerity cutbacks and tax hikes, as the government prepared a new round of unpopular austerity measures for the 2013 budget.
The demonstration, organised with an “Occupy Parliament” slogan, drew demonstrators weary of nine straight months of painful measures imposed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
“The only solution is that we should put everyone in Parliament out on the street so they know what it’s like,” Maria Pilar Lopez, one of the protestors, said.
Lopez, a civil servant, and others are calling for fresh elections, claiming the government’s hard-hitting austerity measures are proof that the ruling Popular Party misled voters to get elected last November.
While Rajoy has said he has no plans to cut pensions for Spaniards, Lopez fears her retirement age could be raised from 65 to as much as 70.
Three of her seven nieces and nephews have been laid off since Rajoy took office, and she said the prospect of them finding jobs “is very bleak”.
“My annual salary has dropped by 8,000 euros and if it falls much further I won’t be able to make ends meet,” said Luis
Rodriguez, 36, a firefighter who joined the protest. He said he was considering leaving Spain to find a better quality of life.
Spain is struggling in its second recession in three years, with unemployment near 25 per cent.
The country has introduced austerity measures and economic reforms in a bid to convince its euro partners and investors that it is serious about reducing its bloated deficit to 6.3 per cent of gross domestic product in 2012 and 4.5 per cent next year.
The deficit reached $64.79 billion, equivalent to 4.77 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, through August, the government said on Tuesday.
Marta Fernandez Curras, secretary of state for the budget, said the deficit “is under control”.
Spain has been under pressure from investors to apply for European Central Bank assistance in keeping its borrowing costs down.
Rajoy has yet to say whether Madrid will apply for the aid, reluctant to ask since such assistance comes with strings attached.
The government is also expected on Thursday or Friday to set a fresh timetable for economic reforms, seen as an attempt to pre-empt strict EU-imposed conditions for aid.
“Let us in, we want to evict you,” protesters chanted outside parliament. The number of home evictions has soared as thousands of people have defaulted on mortgage loans.