Tens of thousands of students protested over education spending cuts in big cities across Spain today and demonstrations in Barcelona turned violent as angry young adults clashed with police.
Riot police charged a crowd outside the stock market in Spain’s second largest city after protesters who broke away from a peaceful rally numbering thousands threw rocks and other objects.
Video in Spanish media showed protesters setting plastic rubbish containers alight with flares, causing a blaze which destroyed at least one car. They also hurled rocks at the glass front door of a bank.
Some students made their way to the University of Barcelona and took refuge from riot police in a plaza inside the campus, denying that they started the violence.
Student Pau Bronsoms, 22, said police used truncheons to hit protesters and fired rubber bullets.
“We did not expect this degree of repression,” he said. “Nobody broke anything until they charged.”
A regional police official in Barcelona declined to comment on tactics used to break up the demonstration.
Spain is in the midst of a deep economic crisis, with the unemployment rate for people aged 16 to 24 at nearly 50%.
Many young adults fear they have no future in the country and are angry at the new conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which is enacting widespread austerity cuts to prevent the country from being forced into a bailout such as those taken by Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Large protests also took place in Madrid and Valencia today, but there were no reports of violence.
The Barcelona protesters regrouped late in the afternoon and marched to the sprawling convention centre hosting the Mobile World Congress, an annual mobile phone trade show event that is the world’s largest.
Authorities prevented demonstrators from getting close and shut down the main entrance and exit just as thousands of convention attendees were preparing to leave, forcing them to take circuitous routes back to their hotels on the third day of the four-day event.
At least one protester was detained outside the site of the cell phone convention, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.