MADRID — Thousands joined a protest march in the Spanish capital Sunday against the conservative government’s austerity policies amid growing uncertainty over whether the country will need a financial bailout.
“No more unemployment, no more cuts…. They will ruin the country, we must stop this,” read a large banner as union and leftwing party leaders led the march.
Others in the crowd carried “No” signs with scissors painted on them, a reference to the budget cuts that are affecting many Spaniards, with unemployment at 24.63 percent.
Spain’s biggest trade unions, the UGT and CCOO, have called protests in a total of 57 cities, and a general strike is planned for November 14, the same day unions have scheduled an anti-austerity strike in neighbouring Portugal.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is under pressure from his EU partners to cut the public deficit to 6.3 percent of gross domestic product this year, 4.5 percent next year and 2.8 percent in 2014.
Budget cuts over three years are to total 150 billion euros ($195 billion).
The latest austerity measures included an increase in the value-added tax on September 1.
But as pressure grows for a sovereign bailout, the Bank of Spain has warned that the nation may miss its 2012 public deficit target and slip into a deeper-than-expected recession next year.
Spain missed last year’s public deficit target by a wide margin, ending 2011 with a budget shortfall equal to 9.4 percent of economic output instead of the promised 6.0 percent.
This year, it has promised to lower the overall deficit to 6.3 percent of output, but already Madrid has been forced to admit that the cost of a banking sector rescue will push the gap to 7.4 percent.
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