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Protesters, police clash in Spain

By Laura Smith-Spark, Per Nyberg and Laura Perez Maestro, CNN
updated 7:52 PM EST, Sat February 23, 2013
Demonstrators shout slogans at Neptuno Square during a march made by thousands of people on Saturday, February 23 in Madrid. Demonstrators shout slogans at Neptuno Square during a march made by thousands of people on Saturday, February 23 in Madrid.
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Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
Madrid at the center of protests
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Two police officers are injured and 40 people are arrested as protests turn violent
  • "People are getting angrier and angrier" over cuts, says a Madrid teacher
  • Spain's unemployment rate stands at 26%, its highest level ever
  • "This government doesn't listen to our calls for help," says activist Sofia de Roa

Madrid (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of protesters amassed in Madrid and other Spanish cities on Saturday to voice their anger over harsh austerity and the way the country's being run in the wake of its financial crisis.

In Madrid, demonstrations turned violent and two police officers were injured, Spanish national police said on Twitter. Forty people were arrested.

Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Zaragoza were just a handful of the cities where big crowds conducted mass protests, dubbed the "Marea Cuidadana" (Tide of Citizens).

Members of workers' unions and civil society groups joined forces to swell their numbers. The crowds were dressed in colored shirts indicating what sector they work in.

Ahead of the marches, organizers used the hashtags #MareaCiudadana, #F23 and #YoVoy23F on Twitter to help protesters link up.

Read more: Welcome to Madrid, city of protests

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Many in Spain have been struggling since the global financial crisis knocked the bottom out of the country's housing market and sparked a major recession that left thousands jobless.

The country's unemployment rate stands at 26% -- its highest level ever -- and the situation is even worse for young people, with more than 55% of 16- to 24-year-olds out of work.

With no income, many are finding themselves unable to afford the mortgage payments on homes that are no longer worth the prices paid for them.

The situation has compelled growing numbers to demonstrate against what they see as the gross unfairness of everyday life in Spain in 2013, where struggling citizens are evicted, even as hundreds of homes lie empty.

In recent weeks, allegations of high-level corruption in Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party have added to popular anger over the way the country is being run. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has strongly denied that he or other top conservatives have for years accepted secretive cash payments from the party.

Gloria Rodriguez, a 49-year-old high school teacher who marched with fellow educators in the capital, Madrid, told CNN there are "many reasons" to demonstrate against the government.

Its cuts, not only to Spain's education budget but also to spending on health, justice and social programs, seem designed to "prevent the state being one that takes care of its citizens," she said.

"I feel that people are getting angrier and angrier, not only because of the cuts but because of the latest news about corruption," she said. "However, I also feel that people are getting tired because we go out to the streets and we don't get a reaction."

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Activist Sofia de Roa, 28, who works as a university press officer in Madrid, struck a similar note.

She was one of the founders of Spain's 15-M protest movement, set up by so-called "Indignados" disenchanted with the way the country was being run and upset at a lack of prospects.

"It is a shame what the government does; they operate as a totalitarian government with their cuts that are affecting everyone, especially in the public sector. The inequality in this country is horrific," she told CNN.

"There are thousands of reasons for coming out to protest today. We are angry and tired. This government doesn't listen to our calls for help. They treat us like idiots. And not only aren't they listening to our protests, they even criminalize our actions," she said.

Spain has witnessed frequent public demonstrations since thousands of Spaniards took to the streets in 2011, inspiring the global "Occupy" movement with their protest camp in Madrid's Puerta del Sol.

CNN's Laura Perez Maestro reported from Spain and Per Nyberg from London, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN's Al Goodman and Bryony Jones also contributed to this report.

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