LANGREO, Spain — Spanish coal miners burned tyres and blocked roads on Monday during a mass strike to protest against subsidy cuts that they say threaten tens of thousands of jobs.
Tens of thousands of people marched in the northern towns of Leon and Langreo in the latest in a month of protests. The strike was also called in some 50 other mining towns.
Spain's cash-strapped central government has slashed subsidies to the coal sector this year to 111 million euros ($142 million) from 301 million euros last year, part of wide-ranging cuts to lower its deficit.
The miners say this is unfair especially when the government has also sought billions of euros to stabilise its banking sector.
"The crisis is a useful excuse for taking money from workers and giving it to the banks," said one retired miner, Vicente Turrado, 54, in the town of Langreo, where businesses shut down on Monday.
Protests in the northern coal mining regions over the past few weeks have turned radical, as striking miners armed with catapults have clashed daily with riot police armed with rubber bullets.
Masked miners put up fresh barricades across the road Monday near a mine in Mieres, Asturias.
"It is the only way to make the politicians listen to us," said one 24-year-old miner in a mask, who asked not to be named. "If the mines close, everything will close."
Unions said 50,000 people joined the march that passed off peacefully late Monday afternoon in Langreo, a town dependent on coal. Several thousand also marched in Leon.
At the barricades near Mieres, police declined to intervene and protesters set fire to tyres and wooden barriers and let off firecrackers before dispersing.
Seven people were injured in clashes Friday near Mieres, where a handful of miners are hunkered down deep underground, refusing to come up in protest.
Spain's coal mining industry has been contracting for decades, with its direct workforce shedding more than 40,000 people over the past 20 years.
Spain has around 8,000 coal miners and the sector indirectly provides jobs for up to 30,000 others, unions say. They say the subsidy cuts will close the coal mines, which rely on state aid to compete with cheaper imports.
Like other European countries, Spain has committed to gradually close non-profitable coal mines in the next few years.
The UGT and CCOO unions that called the strike have vowed to continue protesting and plan a march to Madrid.
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