20 Feb 2012

Austerity measures focus of mass protests in Spain

5:29 pm on 20 February 2012

Thousands of people have rallied in cities and towns across Spain in protest at the government's latest austerity measures.

The government is seeking to stimulate the economy by changing employment laws, but trade unions say workers' rights are being eroded.

The unions which organised the rallies say one million people took part, but police estimates are much lower.

The biggest demonstration was in the capital, Madrid.

The demonstrators were marching in protest at a labour reform law that cuts severance pay and gives employers more flexibility over jobs, the BBC reports.

The changes are aimed at cutting the country's unemployment rate which has reached 23% and is the highest in the European Union.

Spanish media say protests took place in 57 towns and cities.