By HAROLD HECKLE
MADRID (AP) _ Spanish police and protesters clashed during an anti-austerity demonstration that drew tens of thousands of people to central Madrid on Saturday. Police said in a statement that six officers were injured and 12 people were arrested.
As a final speech was being given, some protesters attempted to break through a police barrier and make their way toward the nearby headquarters of the governing conservative Popular Party. Riot police then charged the protesters, who hurled bottles and other objects, and beat them back with batons.
One police vehicle and a bank were damaged by protesters. It wasn’t immediately clear how many protesters were injured, and if anybody was seriously hurt on either side.
Protesters say Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government has eroded Spain’s much-valued public health and education systems, while saddling Spaniards with sky-high unemployment and more debt.
Six columns of protesters _ each from a different region of Spain _ had arrived at the outskirts of the city early Saturday before heading for Colon square, carrying banners bearing the slogan “Marching for Dignity.”
By late afternoon, Madrid’s principal boulevard, Paseo del Prado, was packed with people chanting against government’s austerity policies and the cuts they have entailed.
“I don’t want corruption, government cuts and unemployment,” said office worker Susana Roldan, 24. “What I want is a secure future in Spain.”
Rajoy’s conservative government has a large parliamentary majority, enabling it to push through waves of austerity-driven, unpopular tax hikes and government program cutbacks since taking office in 2011, in a bid to reduce Spain’s budget deficit.
Spain’s economy began to crumble in 2008 with the collapse of its bloated real-estate sector. It emerged from a two-year recession late last year as investor confidence returned and the country’s borrowing costs dropped from perilously high levels in 2012 to pre-crisis rates this year. But unemployment is still cripplingly high at 26 percent, leading many to seek work oversees.
The protest includes trade unions, civil servants and organizations representing people evicted from their homes for not being able to make mortgage payments after losing their jobs.
One woman carried a banner saying, “My daughter can’t be here because she’s had to emigrate.”