Public workers stage mass protest in Barcelona

Thousands of police, teachers and hospital staff staged a mass protest march in Barcelona on Saturday in growing anger at spending cuts hitting key services in Spain’s Catalonia region.

“No to the Cuts,” read a banner at the head of the crowd, which included prison guards, fire-fighters and nurses protesting at cuts that they warn are undermining security, education and health.Thousands of participants joined in, with turnout estimates by various organisers, authorities and media varying from 15,000 to 125,000.

Spending cuts aimed at stabilising Spain’s public finances are hitting its regions hard, adding to the pain of an unemployment rate that crept close to 23 percent at the end of 2011, with more than five million people out of work.”There are more pupils per class with fewer resources and fewer teachers,” said one demonstrator, schoolteacher Maite Sanchez, 29.

“The quality of education is beginning to be seriously affected by the cuts.” Another, Rosalia Port, a 56-year-old nurse, insisted: “There are other kinds of cuts that can be made, such as fighting tax fraud and raising taxes for those who earn the most.”It was the latest in a series of mass protests against measures to resolve the crisis.

Tens of thousands of public sector workers in several towns in Valencia, Spain’s most heavily indebted region, demonstrated on Thursday to protest cuts there.Catalonia’s regional parliament is currently debating the budget for 2012 which includes cuts of 625 million euros ($826 million) to rein in its deficit to 1.3 percent of gross domestic product this year.

Cuts to health, security and education budgets began last year, and at the end of 2011 the region also proposed to hike taxes and fees for services such as universities, public transport and water.Saturday’s march was marked by the participation of regional police officers, prison guards and fire-fighters who warned the budget cuts prompted by the financial crisis are undermining security.

“It’s an explosive cocktail,” said David Miquel, a spokesman for the Catalan police union SPC, ahead of the march.”We lack equipment and vehicles.

The situation is pathetic.

In some cases there are no vehicles to carry out operations.” Spain’s central government said Friday it had approved a new budget law that bans the country’s 17 powerful regions from sliding into deficit from 2020.

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