Anti-cuts protest turns violent

Tens of thousands of Spaniards and Portuguese have rallied in the streets of their capitals to protest at the enduring economic pain from austerity measures.

The demonstration in Madrid turned violent after Spaniards enraged over a long-lasting recession and sky-high unemployment clashed with riot police for the third time in less than a week near parliament.

The latest violence came after thousands of Spaniards who had marched near the parliament building in central Madrid had protested peacefully for hours. Police with batons later moved in just before midnight to clear out those who remained late because no permission had been obtained from authorities to hold the demonstration.

Some protesters responded by throwing bottles and rocks. An Associated Press photographer saw police severely beat one protester, who was taken away in an ambulance.

Spain's state TV said that two people were hurt and 12 detained near the barricades erected in Madrid to shield the parliament building. Television images showed police charging protesters and hitting them with their batons, but the violence did not appear as severe as a protest on Tuesday when 38 people were arrested and 64 injured.

Earlier, the boisterous crowds let off ear-splitting whistles and yelled "Fire them, fire them!" - referring to the conservative government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy, and venting their anger against tax hikes, government spending cuts and the highest unemployment rate among the 17 nations that use the euro currency.

On Friday, Mr Rajoy's administration presented a 2013 draft budget that will cut overall spending by 40 billion euros (£32 billion), freezing the salaries of public sector workers, cutting spending for unemployment benefits and even reducing spending for Spain's royal family next year by 4%.

Madrid authorities put the number of protesters at 4,500 - though demonstrators said the crowd was larger. In neighbouring Portugal, tens of thousands took to the streets of Lisbon yesterday afternoon to peacefully protest against even deeper austerity cutbacks than Spain has imposed.

In Spain Mr Rajoy has an absolute majority and has pushed through waves of austerity measures over the last nine months - trying to prevent Spain from being forced into the same kind of bailouts taken by Portugal, Ireland and Greece. But the country has an unemployment rate of nearly 25%, and the jobless rate is more than 50% for those under 25.

Investors worried about Spain's economic viability have forced up the interest rate they are willing to pay to buy Spanish bonds. The country's banks hurting from a property boom that went bust are set to get help soon from a 100 billion-euro (£79.5 billion) financial lifeline from the eurozone, and Mr Rajoy is pondering whether to ask for help from the ECB to buy Spanish bonds.