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Police brutality accusations as protests span Spain

Published time: February 22, 2012 09:49
Edited time: February 23, 2012 00:03

A riot Police officer wields his baton towards a protester during clashes following a demonstration in Valencia on February 20, 2012 (AFP Photo / Toni Gutierrez)

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Thousands of Spaniards are preparing to rally against police brutality against students in Valencia. The violence came after mass protests against labor reforms and cuts in education that saw almost a million take to the streets across the country.

­Political parties, unions and educational institutions, and citizens have called for a demonstration Wednesday in Valencia. They demand the resignation of the government delegate in the Region, Paula Sánchez de León, and the chief of police, Antonio Moreno.

This comes a day after tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of Spanish cities to demand the authorities put an end to police brutality against students from Valencia. The thousands-strong protest was held near the Luis Vives institute in Valencia, with parents joining students and schoolchildren.

Thousands of people across the nation showed their support to students of Valencia by staging protests in their home towns. At least 3,000 people have taken to the streets in Madrid Tuesday chanting “Hear us Valencia, Madrid is with you in the struggle”.

Citizens of Barcelona, Seville, Cordoba, Grenada, Almeria, Cadiz, Turia and Alicante have also rallied to criticize the police action and demand the resignation of the government delegate in Valencia. Protesters displayed banners with slogans like "Please do not hit me in the head. Tomorrow I have examination."

Following Tuesday’s protests, the Spanish Interior Ministry withdrew the strong police presence used to suppress student demonstrations in Valencia.

During the last few days there have been fierce clashes between the police and young people on the streets of Spain. The violence erupted when police forcibly evicted students protesting against cuts in education budgets on Monday. Police beat protesters with batons and literally dragged them off the streets. Dozens have been wounded by rubber bullets, reports El Pais.

Twenty-five people, among them six minors, were arrested and dozens have been injured. The local police chief, Antonio Moreno, named the force used on peaceful protesters “proportional," saying, “Greater aggression requires a proportionate response.” The statement caused outrage among students and their parents.

However, the images of riots and police violence were amplified through social networks and the international media. Twitter hashtag “Valencian Spring” (#primaveravalenciana) soared to the worldwide trends.  This led Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz to recognize the force used by police as “excessive” and “unfortunate”.

Photographs and videos from the scene showed youths with bleeding faces and baton-wielding police in helmets and body armor chasing, beating and dragging people along the ground as the street clashes continued after nightfall.

Amnesty International and Save the Children organizations requested Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government of to investigate possible police abuse, especially in the case of minors.

The government delegate in Valencia, Paula Sánchez de León, has blamed senior police officers for the violence, saying that “decisions are made by those in the street with the criteria by which the police operate."

Only a day earlier, Sanchez de Leon said that in the case of any person being considered abused by police, it could only be determined by a judge, provided the necessary complaint has been submitted.

In turn, the manifestations of the minister and the government delegate outraged police organizations. The Unified Police Union called for the dismissal of Sánchez de León and called it "cowardly" of Fernandez Diaz to place the blame on the officers.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched throughout Spain on Sunday in the first large-scale show of anger over new labor reforms that make it easier for companies to fire workers and pull out of collective bargaining agreements.

Spain's main trade unions organized marches in 57 cities, beginning mid-morning in southern Cordoba. Union organizers said around 1 million people had marched by mid-afternoon, but official figures were not released.

On February 10, Mariano Rajoy's government passed the package of reforms in an effort to shake up a labor market seen as one of Europe's most rigid and to encourage hiring in a country battling the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone, at nearly 23 per cent. 

The government, elected in November, is working desperately to chip away at a bloated deficit and a jobless rate that stands at staggering 39 per cent for those aged between 20 and 29. Its first big step was a $20 billion deficit reduction package of spending cuts and tax hikes approved February 3, followed by the shake-up of the labor market.

But Professor Philipp Bagus of the economics department at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos  told RT the Spanish government would have to further “downsize the public sector” to cure the country’s economic troubles.

"It [the public sector] is just too big, it’s strangling the private sector. So they are not giving enough room for the private sector.  At the same time, they’re actually increasing taxes. If you increase taxes in a recession, you’ll strangle the private sector even more, and this is what the Spanish government actually did, they raised income taxes.”

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