Barcelona doctors protest Spanish cuts, block traffic

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Hundreds of doctors in white coats and other health workers demonstrated Tuesday in Barcelona, blocking traffic in protest at crisis spending cuts that have shut down hospitals.

Yelling "No cuts!" and waving banners with pictures of scissors, some 500 doctors demonstrated in front of the Vall d'Hebron hospital and blocked a major avenue in the northeastern Spanish city, causing traffic chaos in the rain.

The autonomous but centrally-funded Spanish regions are being pressed by the central government to make cuts to their budgets to rein in Spain's huge deficit. In some regions, health and education services are being hit.

"The cuts are already being felt," said one demonstrator, general practitioner Almudena Plaza, 46, complaining that operations were being delayed, waiting lists were growing and surgeries being shut down.

The Catalonia health workers' union MC said in a statement that more than 70 percent of the 16,500 staff who were called on to strike did so on Tuesday. The regional health authority put the figure at 20 percent.

The president of the MC, Albert Tomas, said the regional health budget was being cut by 10 percent -- about a billion euros ($1.35 billion).

The union called for a second strike day Wednesday, when a demonstration is planned at the regional health ministry.

"If we don't get the government to back down, we will keep fighting and will carry out other protests," said another demonstrator, Xavier Plannel, a 51-year-old family doctor.

© 2011 AFP

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