PICTURES

Thousands in Spain march against government austerity policies

MADRID (AFP) - Thousands of people protested in Madrid on Sunday against austerity policies and record high unemployment, urging Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to focus on creating jobs to help pull the country out of recession.

To the din of whistles and drums, the demonstrators snaked through the central streets of the Spanish capital under the blazing sun, waving red-and-white union flags and carrying placards reading "Austerity destroys and kills" and "Spending cuts are robbery".

"We hope the government realises that you can't reverse the situation with cuts, cuts and more cuts. It is time to change course and do more to foster growth," said Ms Diana Rodriguez, 47, a former bank teller who has been unemployed for nearly two years.

Demonstrations were held in 28 other cities across Spain, including Barcelona, the country's second-largest city, and the Atlantic port of Vigo in the north-west.

They were organised by Spain's three largest unions, the Workers' Commissions, the General Union of Workers and the Workers' Trade Unionist Federation.

Mr Rajoy's conservative government has introduced a range of spending cuts and tax hikes, as well as pension reform, to shore up strained public finances since it took office in December 2011 following a landslide general election win.

It has vowed to find 150 billion euros (S$250.6 billion) in savings between 2012 and 2014 as part of the painful austerity programme that has sparked mass demonstrations.

The Spanish economy, the euro zone's fourth-largest, shrank by 0.5 per cent during the first three months of 2013, its seventh-consecutive quarterly decline, while the unemployment rate soared to a record 27.16 per cent, the highest level since the rebirth of Spanish democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975.

For those between the ages of 16 and 24, joblessness has soared to 57.22 per cent.

"The government has to change course. It is obvious that the path they are taking us on will just dig us deeper into this mess," said Mr Carlos Lago, a 32-year-old civil servant who carried a sign reading: "Without bread, there is no peace."