Spanish demonstrate against austerity measures

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Thousands of Spaniards demonstrated Sunday in central Madrid against austerity measures that a new poll showed has dented the support for the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

As many as 15,000 people joined the march against the belt-tightening measures worth 15 billion euros (18.6 billion dollars) that Zapatero announced in a new bid to shore up Spain's public finances after stocks plunged over fears it could follow Greece into a debt crisis.

Police put turnout at the demonstration, called by unions and non-governmental organisations, at around 5,000 people.

The new austerity plan triggered a nine-point plunge in the support for Zapatero's Socialists, which would take only 33.7 percent of votes against 42.8 percent for the opposition conservative Popular Party, according to a poll published Sunday in El Pais.

Zapatero's new austerity plan includes a five-percent pay cut for public sector workers from June, and a pay freeze from 2011. Pensions except for the poorest will also be frozen in 2011.

The poll found that Spaniards approve of the pay cut for public workers, but two-thirds opposed the pension freeze, and three-quarters thought the measures will be insufficient to get Spain out of its crisis.

The cuts are on top of a 50-billion-euro austerity package announced in January designed to slash public deficit to the eurozone limit of three percent of GDP by 2013 from 11.2 percent last year.

El Pais did not say on what dates nor how many people were questioned in the poll conducted by the Metroscopia firm.

© 2010 AFP

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