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Spanish protesters riot in Madrid, 11 people hurt

A Madrid demonstration in sympathy with protests in the northern Spanish city of Burgos against a local government plan to convert a street into a tree-lined boulevard turned violent on Wednesday, leading to 11 arrests and 11 injuries.

Rioters tossed smoke bombs, threw chairs from street terraces and burned garbage containers in central Madrid after a march that began in the capital's Puerta del Sol square and ended near the ruling conservative People's Party (PP) central headquarters.

Police and emergency service sources said 11 protesters were arrested and 11 people, including five police officers, were injured during the riots.

It was one of 46 protests across Spanish cities on Wednesday against the state-financed project in Burgos that has stoked public fury. Critics say widespread corruption has plunged Spain into an economic crisis that has lasted for years, leaving one in four workers unemployed.

The project in Burgos' Gamonal district, which intends to trade street-side parking for an underground parking garage that citizens must pay for, is reported to cost at least 8 million euros for a city with 500 million euros of debt.

The local government has put the plan on hold in light of the protests. Opponents say they never asked for the revamped boulevard and that the project is excessive in a time when belt-tightening should be the norm.

The Spanish economy emerged from recession in the third quarter of last year but state finances are still under scrutiny by the European Union. Spain's attempts to rein in a large public deficit have led to cuts in education and health care, sparking widespread protests.

Unlike in Greece where many similar protests have turned violent, Spain's have remained largely peaceful.

Still, the government took steps last November to toughen penalties for unauthorized street protests with the so-called Citizens' Security Law, which has faced sharp criticism as anti-democratic.

[Source: Reuters, Madrid, 15Jan14]

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