MADRID — Tens of thousands of Spanish protesters — young and old, those with jobs and those without — marched Sunday in Madrid to drive home their anger over high unemployment, bleak economic prospects and politicians they consider inept.
Similar demonstrations were being held in other cities including Barcelona in the north, Valencia in the east and Seville in the south. Police were out in force after a Wednesday protest in Barcelona turned violent.
Protester Antonio Cortes, 58, said Spain's workers were being asked to bear the brunt of the financial crisis.
"This crisis was created by the capitalist financial system and we are paying for it. All the cuts shouldn't be aimed at the working class," he said.
Nearly two years of recession have left Spain with a 21.3-percent unemployment rate — the highest in the 17-nation eurozone — and saddled with debt. The jobless rate, which has more than doubled since 2007, jumps to 35 percent for people aged 16 to 29. Many young, highly educated Spaniards can't find jobs as the eurozone's No. 4 economy struggles with low growth.
Protests began May 15 and spread to cities across the country, striking a chord with hundreds of thousands fed-up with the wage cuts and tax hikes needed to resolve a financial crisis they see as created by banks and wealthy developers.
Police estimated that 35,000 marchers left from six points around Madrid, then crowded into central Neptuno square adjacent to the country's parliament building. Some carried banners reading "Let's march together against the crisis."
"I'm taking to the streets because I know another world is possible and I want to persuade our leaders to listen to our arguments," said Rosa Simarro, a 28-year-old chef, as a brass band went past playing a rousing march.
Beside a statue dedicated to Neptune, the mythological god of the sea, some protesters were preparing a fish stew lunch using two parabolic-shaped solar-powered cookers.
"If we don't stand up for what we believe in now that this movement has momentum, we will surely regret it," said Marta Rojo, 20.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government has tackled the debt crisis by cutting government spending, freezing pensions, raising the retirement age and making it easier and cheaper for companies to lay people off.
Spain slipped into recession in 2008 after a real estate bubble burst, halting a credit-fueled consumer spending spree. It has not needed or sought an international bailout like fellow eurozone members Greece, Ireland and Portugal, but its financial troubles strike fear in other European capitals due to the sheer size of its economy.