Spain students protest cuts, police violence
Students protest against cuts in education in central Madrid February 29, 2012. They are also demonstrating against last week's police brutality during a student protest in Valencia. Reuters photoThousands of students blocked roads and crowded the streets of Spanish cities on Wednesday in anger over crisis spending cuts and police violence against protesters.
Students' associations called marches in about 40 cities and towns across the country to protest the austerity measures they say are disrupting classes and cutting teaching jobs.
The demonstrations were also called in solidarity with students in Valencia, the region worst hit by the education funding crisis, where police beat youths in bloody baton charges during a demonstration on February 20.
"We did not create this crisis but we are paying for it in every sense," said the leader of the national students' union Tohil Delgado.
"They are making cuts in public education, they are giving us no option to work, and on top of this when we protest democratically they beat us with complete impunity." Several hundred students whistled and chanted slogans such as "Fewer cuts, more education!" as they massed near the education ministry in central Madrid, watched by a line of police.
"They are giving much less money for scholarships for research and material that we need," said 18-year-old Ana Ramirez, a first-year biology student with dark dreadlocks.
"There is less practice time in the lab. I feel discouraged, I am not going to be able to find work." Her friend Claudia Holgueras, an 18-year-old environmental science student, added: "Education is the base of everything and it is the first thing they cut. It is in our field, research, where they are cutting the most." From the ministry, the students along with some high school pupils marched to Madrid's Sol square and dispersed peacefully.
Thousands of students and their supporters also marched through the central streets of Spain's two other biggest cities, Valencia and Barcelona.
In Barcelona protesters blocked a road and a highway as well as a suburban railway track, radio news station Cadena Ser reported. Picketers also blocked access to the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Students with sleeping bags and supplies of food and water spent the night at universities in Alicante, Barcelona and Valencia -- part of a movement dubbed "Tomalafacultad" ("Seize the faculty") on Twitter.
They were the latest in a string of demonstrations in various sectors in anger at cuts and reforms that the conservative government says will strengthen the economy and eventually curb unemployment, which is at nearly 23 percent.
"In the Valencia region there are more than 65 colleges and high schools where there have been heating and electricity cuts," while in regions such as Madrid and Catalonia thousands of teaching jobs have been cut, Delgado said.
"Classes are overcrowded. Classes have been cut. And it is a very widespread situation," he told AFP.
The government insists tough action is needed to strengthen Spain's economy and public finances. It announced on Monday that the public deficit hit 8.51 percent of output last year, way above a target of 6.0 percent.
"All the cutbacks and the labour reforms make it hard for youths to enter the labour market," said Diego Parejo, 21, a third-year politics student, at the Madrid demonstration.
"When I finish university, I see a very dark future."