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Spain Antiausterity Protests Draw Thousands

By Harold Heckle

MADRID -- Several thousand people marched to Spain's parliament in an antiausterity protest Saturday, but were held back from surrounding the building by metal rail barricades and a large police presence.

The "Surround parliament" protest group had called on people to gather at Plaza de Espana and march on the legislature to express their opposition to spending cuts and tax hikes introduced by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government.

Police on horseback and with dogs had earlier arrived at Neptuno fountain next to parliament in preparation for crowd control duties as the protesters marched 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles) from the muster point.

Protesters were accompanied along the route of the march by a strong police escort, including vans with reinforced windows.

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Demonstration organizers said protesters will be asked to hold a minute of silence with their backs turned on parliament to express their disapproval of government public sector cuts while offering financial support to ailing banks.

"And now they are going to give banks a bailout, rescue them as if they were princesses," said Alan Pipo, 70.

"They should be put out on the streets, just like all those families who are being evicted from their homes because they are unable to keep up with mortgage payments."

Thousands also marched in the Barcelona to protest education cuts in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

Earlier, about 3,000 off-duty police officers had also demonstrated to protest the government's austerity measures, including the cancellation of their Christmas bonuses.

The police protest blocked one of the capital's central boulevards opposite the Interior Ministry. On-duty police officers watched as their off-duty colleagues demonstrated by throwing fireworks and chanting slogans.

A demonstrator was injured when a firework he was set to throw exploded in his hand. Many protesters draped themselves in Spanish flags and added to the ear-splitting noise by blowing their police-issued whistles.

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