EL SOTON, Spain (AP) — Striking coal miners armed with homemade rockets and slingshots clashed with police in northern Spain on Friday, leaving seven people injured, two of them seriously, the Interior Ministry said.
The strike is the latest and the most violent of many in Spain in reaction to harsh austerity measures aimed at digging the debt-burdened country out of its financial crisis.
The miners are concerned that government cuts — including a reduction in mining subsidies from €300 million to €110 million ($375 million-$137 million) a year — will devastate their industry.
Spain is applying across-the-board cutbacks as part of an economic overhaul aimed at slashing its swollen deficit, but that plan comes at a time when the country’s unemployment rate is nearly 25 percent.
Four police officers and three journalists were injured when police tried to remove roadblocks of flaming tires set up as part of the protest, and were met with a barrage of missiles fired by the miners, the regional office of the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
A journalist was taken to the hospital with a chest injury caused by a rubber bullet, and a policeman received medical treatment after a ball bearing smashed through his visor.
Three other policemen were treated for burns caused by skyrocket fireworks fired through lengths of pipe held shoulder high, and two journalists suffered minor cuts and bruises, the statement said.
“We were protesting to defend our jobs and police charged at us, so my colleagues defended themselves,” said Gerardo Cienfuegos, 39, who said he has been a coal miner since he was 16 years old.
Cienfuegos said around 4,000 mining jobs in the region were in danger of disappearing as a result of the government’s austerity measures.
Mining has been an integral part of the economy of the northern provinces of Asturias and Leon since Romans discovered gold and coal there nearly 2,000 years ago.
Several thousand miners clashed with police in Madrid early in June as they marched to complain that stripping government aid would doom their sector to collapse.
Police baton-charged one group that was throwing stones and bottles, arresting two people and nine were slightly hurt.