Police fire warning shots as Barcelona university protests escalate

Demonstrations nationwide against spending cuts as unions mull general strike

Firemen extinguish a fire after clashes between students and policemen in Barcelona.
Firemen extinguish a fire after clashes between students and policemen in Barcelona. LLUÍS GENÉ (AFP)

Demonstrations took place across Spain on Wednesday in protest against spending cuts in the public education sector.

Some 20,000 students took to the streets in Valencia, according to EL PAÍS' calculations, where the protests began in earnest in mid-February at the Lluís Vives public school and swiftly escalated after the arrest of a minor, resulting in bloody clashes between police and protestors during which dozens of youngsters were detained.

The demonstration in Valencia on Wednesday passed off peacefully, as did smaller protests in Madrid and Alicante. In Barcelona, however, the largest concentration descended into scenes of violence like those witnessed in Valencia two weeks ago. The Mossos d'Esquadra, Catalonia's regional police force, surrounded protesting students barricaded in the University of Barcelona campus in the center of the city at 3pm on Wednesday after running battles through nearby streets had left dumpsters and vehicles ablaze in their wake.

As the students retreated to the safety of the campus dozens of anti-riot vehicles appeared on the scene. The disturbances began when a march through the city in protest against planned budget cuts by the Catalonia regional government reached its destination, the Plaça Universitat, after a circle of the city center. Thousands of demonstrators had turned out for a day of strike action, called by the seven public universities in the Catalan capital. As the multitude descended on the square, some demonstrators threw stones at police, who responded with baton charges and even fired warning shots into the air with rubber bullets. At least three protestors were arrested, according to the students' union. A spokesman for the organization described the police's actions as "excessive and provocative."

Some 300 protestors also tried to storm the Mobile World Congress taking place in the city at the Fira de Barcelona but were deterred by a massive police cordon around the building.

According to the organizers of the protest, 60,000 people heeded the universities' call to take to the streets. Barcelona city authorities put the figure at closer to 25,000. Some 120,000 students, 16,000 teachers and 10,000 administration staff were called upon to strike. Public healthcare and public transport workers also held separate demonstrations in Barcelona.

Meanwhile, the country's largest labor unions, CCOO and UGT, announced they were studying calling a general strike on either March 29 or April 19 with the aim of influencing Congressional debate over labor reforms. The contentious proposal is scheduled to be ratified on March 8 before the process of enshrining it in law begins. Both dates mooted for a general strike fall within the period of time this process is expected to take.

"We do not want the same thing that happened in 2010 to be repeated, when we staged a strike in September after the parliamentary debate had already concluded," said a union spokesman.


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