Tens of thousands of Spaniards took to the streets of Madrid on Saturday in the country’s biggest anti-austerity protest of the year – but the closing moments of a largely peaceful demonstration were tarnished by rioting, ending with 24 arrests and about 100 people injured.
Organised by left-wing political parties and trade unions, the protests attracted more than 40,000 demonstrators to the streets. They included some 2,500 marchers from six different columns who had taken part in month-long treks from as far afield as southern Andalusia, 300 miles away, timed to reach the Spanish capital for the protests.
The demonstrators were condemned as extremists by Spain’s right-wing press, with the head of Madrid’s regional government, Ignacio Gonzalez, asserting earlier this week that the protesters’ manifestos included similar proposals to Golden Dawn, the Greek far-right party. “The extremes end up joining,” he claimed.
However, most of the shouts and chants as the protest columns first merged at Atocha, the city’s main railway station, and then moved up the city’s central boulevard, simply seemed directed against the government’s economic policies.
“My daughter would be here but she had to emigrate,” one protester’s poster read. Another: “This is not a recession, it’s a fraud.” Many chanted in favour of “bread, work and roofs over our heads for everybody”.
Mamen Ruiz, a 32-year-old mother-of-two who belongs to a protest group fighting against evictions, told the newspaper El País: “If you don’t fight, they will control you.”
Despite the recession being officially over, austerity-driven tax increases and public spending cuts exacerbate the economic desperation felt by many Spaniards. What had been a peaceful cross-generation protest was almost over when a small group of demonstrators attempted to force their way through to the Madrid headquarters of the ruling Partido Popular poltical party. The police then charged, with rioters hurling bottles, fireworks and stones and smashing windows and bus shelters along the central Paseo del Prado boulevard.
Among the injured were 55 police officers, with one was reported as being apparently repeatedly kicked in the head and lost consciousness. In total, 17 people needed hospital treatment.