Clashes erupt amid Europe's anti-austerity protests

Protesters furious over austerity cuts clashed with police in Spain and Italy on Wednesday as a string of rallies and strikes were held in cities across Europe.


Riot police and anti-austerity protesters clashed in Spain and Italy on Wednesday as anger boiled over on a Europe-wide day of strikes and mass demonstrations.

General strikes in Spain and Portugal paralysed swathes of industry and hit road, rail and air transport, as people vented their frustration at state cut-backs.

Seething workers staged industrial walkouts in Italy, the eurozone's number three economy, and in Greece, fighting to avert default even after enacting an austerity squeeze of 13.5 billion euros ($17 billion).

Against a background of peaceful industrial action and protests across Europe, however, police charged with batons in Spain and running street battles erupted in Italy.

In Madrid, riot police fired rubber bullets into the air and struck protesters with batons in the centra Plaza de Cibeles square, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

The clashes erupted when a police cordon blocked demonstrators from joining a rally in the square.

Earlier, police swung batons and pushed away hundreds of young protesters to prevent them blocking the nearby Gran Via avenue in the Spanish capital. Crowds of protesters chanted "Abuse of power;" and "More education, fewer police."

Police arrested 82 protesters across the country and 34 people were wounded, including 18 police, the government said.

In Italy, media said some 20 activists beat a riot police officer with a stick and baseball bats in Turin, while five officers were hurt during running street battles in central Milan.

"Europe is waking up today -- from Rome to Madrid to Athens," said Mario Nobile, a 23-year-old university student in Rome.

"The 'PIGS' are rebelling!" he said, using a derogatory acronym for the most troubled eurozone economies of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

FRANCE 24 's correspondent in Rome Seema Gupta said there were disturbances across the country.

"We have had reports from Milan where protesters blocked roads and thrown missiles at the windows of banks and in Florence there was also been thrown at banks and tax collection officers," she said.

"In Rome there was clashes when a group of students tried to make their way towards the Parliament and began throwing stones at one of the barricades set up by police, three of whom were reportedly injured."

Spanish unions said participation in the strike was massive, surpassing 85 percent in some industrial sectors, but the government said the impact was more modest with electricity usage down 15.8 percent from normal.

Spain's Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said the strike was "not the right path" to reduce uncertainty and insisted that auserity was the only way out of the crisis.

In Portugal, the general strike brought Lisbon's metro service to a halt while ferries across the River Tagus and trains across the country ran skeleton services.

Both Spain and Portugal have legislation guaranteeing minimum services in essential industries.

But in Spain, Iberia, Iberia Express, Air Nostrum, Vueling, Air Europa and easyJet cut more than 600 flights including some 250 international routes. Ryanair said no flights had been scrapped yet.

Portugal's TAP said it was grounding more than 170 flights, most of them international.

Greece's unions are focused on the national crisis, rather than the European-wide action, and their protest was limited to a three-hour work stoppage and a rally in Athens.

Italian unions called a four-hour walkout.

Union-led rallies to support the day of action were being held in France, Belgium and in Poland, where workers decried a "social and wage-dumping" in their country.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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