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11 Jul, 2012 10:22

'Spain is rising up!' Raging miners invade Madrid (VIDEO)

Thousands of Spanish miners and their supporters flooded the streets of Madrid in a second day of mass protests, just hours after the country’s leader announced a nationwide tax hike.

Workers marched up the city’s main avenue, wearing hardhats and carrying walking sticks, to protest outside the Industry Ministry.Many walked for nearly three weeks in the blazing sun before finally reaching Madrid.The crowd chanted, “Miners, stick it out, Spain is rising up!” as they made their way toward Madrid’s central square on Tuesday."We didn't expect such a big welcome. The fact that people are coming into the street and mobilizing is a good sign,” Roberto Quintas, a miner of 22 years, told AFP.Workers set off fireworks, generating large puffs of smoke along the streets. Some came from the north of Spain, where protests outside coal mines resulted in clashes with police just three weeks ago. The miners were joined by relatives and supporters, also angry at cuts made in response to the economic crisis. Wednesday’s protest came as the country’s leader announced a nationwide tax hike.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he will raise VAT by 3 percentage points as part of the plan to trim the public budget by 65 billion euro over the next two-and-a-half years. He also announced a 3.5-billion-euro cut to local government spending. The fourth austerity package in seven months will raise the sales tax to 21 per cent and do away with tax rebates for home buyers. Unemployment benefits for workers will also be scaled back.PM Rajoy asked public workers to make an “exceptional effort,” as the government takes away their end-of-year bonuses. MPs are included in the cuts, and will have their budgets slashed by 600 million euro. He told parliament that the measures he was announcing should be adopted without delay.

Miners arrived in the Spanish capital overnight, wearing hard hats with lights turned on. The protesters were joined by ordinary citizens, also angered by cuts made in response to the economic crisis.Spain’s working class has been hit with increased pressure in recent months, faced with higher taxes and new regulations, which make it cheaper to fire employees. The country has also seen recent funding cuts to education and national healthcare. The measures are in return for a eurozone bank bailout and a one-year extension for Madrid to decrease its budget deficit to 3 per cent.The workers marched hundreds of miles from the north of Spain, where demonstrations outside coal mines have resulted in clashes with police.Protesters are fighting against the government’s decision to slash coal industry subsidies by 63 per cent. Unions say the plan threatens 30,000 jobs and could destroy their livelihoods.Workers are also unhappy with cuts against funding for miners to learn new professions and for school grants for their children.The Spanish government argues that it currently pays disproportionately high subsidies to the industry, which it claims is a small and unprofitable part of the economy.