Flights grounded as millions join EU austerity protests
First arrests in Madrid as Spanish and Portuguese lead day of action against cuts and tax hikes
THE Spanish government said early this morning that 32 people had been arrested and 15 treated for minor injuries in disturbances in Madrid as workers across Europe began a day of strikes and street protests again austerity measures.
Flights have been grounded, schools closed and transport networks shut down in the first coordinated protest against the combination of tax hikes and public spending cuts in the region, Reuters reports. The cost to business of the day of action is likely to run into hundreds of millions of euros.
Portugal and Spain are the most severely affected by the protest, with around five million people in both countries taking part in general strikes. But many workers in Greece and Italy are also striking, and protests are expected in most EU countries, including Britain.
Judith Kirton-Darling of the European Trade Union Confederation, which urged workers to join the walkout, says austerity isn't working. "It's increasing inequalities, it's increasing the social instability in society and it's not resolving the economic crisis."
The BBC's Europe editor Gavin Hewitt said: "The question that worries many of Europe's leaders is when will patience run out? When will tolerance of high unemployment and declining living standards snap?"
Spain and Portugal have been the hardest hit by cuts in public spending, rises in the retirement age and tax hikes to combat the virtual collapse of their economies in the wake of the eurozone crisis. Unemployment in Spain stands at 25 per cent, the highest of all eurozone countries, while in Portugal 15 per cent are out of work.
Spain is teetering on the brink of calling for a full European bailout for its economy and it is possible today's strike could tip the country over the edge. Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy's is trying to hold off the bailout, which would give the European Union, and ultimately Germany as one of the few solvent eurozone economies, control over Spain's budget.