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'Citizen tide' of tens of thousands swamps Spain in massive protest

MADRID -- Spaniards furious at hardship and corruption scandals in the financial crisis massed in cities across the country on Saturday in a “citizens' tide” of protests.

Tens of thousands converged in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities to the din of drums and whistles and yells of “Resign!” directed at Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his government.

“We have come because of it all — unemployment, corrupt politicians, the young people who have no future — it's a combination of everything,” said Luis Mora, 55, a construction worker in Madrid.

He joined a multitude of nurses, doctors, teachers, firemen, miners with lamps on their helmets and numerous other groups.

The grouping of civil associations that called the protests chose February 23 for the anniversary of an attempted coup in 1981 by officers who tried to restore military rule six years after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.

The protestors' manifesto said the demonstrations targeted the “coup of the financial markets” which they largely blame for the crisis brought on by the collapse of the housing market.

Thousands of people also rallied in cities such as Valencia, Seville and A Coruna and the movement called demonstrations in scores of other towns.

Spain has been seeing weekly protests against the spending cuts and tax hikes imposed by Rajoy's conservative government to slash the public deficit.

The cuts are squeezing the public sector, while the current recession that started in late 2011 has shut down companies and thrown millions out of work, driving the unemployment rate above 26 percent.

“Rajoy get out,” and “No to bank dictatorship,” read some of the signs in the sea of banners, plus placards reading “No” with scissors representing the cuts.

“We have been struggling all our lives and now with one snip they take away everything,” said Mora, dressed in a white shirt with envelopes pinned on it marked “20,000 euros” — a reference to political corruption.

Public anger has been fanned over recent weeks by a corruption scandal in Rajoy's conservative Popular Party.

Newspapers alleged that Rajoy and other party members received irregular payments, which he and the party have denied.

A separate corruption case being investigated on the island of Majorca has implicated the royal palace. King Juan Carlos's son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin and a palace official were questioned by an investigating judge in that affair on Saturday.

Many protestors in Saturday's demonstrations waved or wrapped themselves in the red, yellow and purple Spanish Republican flag — a symbol of a pre-Franco, nonmonarchical Spain.

Rajoy defended his government's record during a state of the nation address in parliament on Wednesday, saying that his austere measures had saved Spain from financial disaster.

“We have left behind us the constant threat of imminent disaster and we are starting to see the path for the future,” he said.

In Madrid on Saturday, demonstrators converged on Plaza de Neptuno near the lower house of the Spanish parliament — scene of a huge protest in September that led to clashes with riot police.

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A general view of the Neptuno square in Madrid is seen during a demonstration against government austerity in Madrid on Saturday, Feb. 23. (AFP)

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