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Demonstrators march on parliament

Firefighters, police in plainclothes and civil servants have attempted to march on the Spanish parliament in a protest over austerity measures, only to find the way blocked by police in riot gear.

Officers got involved in shoving matches with demonstrators in Madrid who numbered more than 1,000 in the latest in a series of demonstrations against deficit-cutting reforms announced last week by prime minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government.

Firefighters wore black helmets and some of the police who took part wore shirts identifying them as union representatives.

The austerity measures include the suspension of one of 14 pay cheques most civil servants get each year - specifically, the one usually paid right before Christmas. Civil servants' wages were already cut by an average of 5% in 2010.

All Spaniards also face higher sales tax and cuts in government spending and services starting in September as part of a package designed to save 65 billion euro (£51 billion) through until 2015.

Discontent over the austerity regime was also hurting political support for Rajoy's government. A Catalan nationalist party called Convergence and Union, which has generally been supportive of Mr Rajoy since he took power, said it will vote against the austerity measures when they come up on Thursday for a yes or no vote, with no margin for amendments, in Parliament.

In practice, the party's decision will make no difference because Mr Rajoy has an ample majority in the legislature. But it does make him more isolated.

Catalan president Artur Mas said in a radio interview that the central government could take over the region's finances, but insisted that this would be unfair because, he said, Catalonia is trying harder than other regions to get its finances in order.

Spain's central government is itself in danger of needing a sovereign rescue like those Greece, Ireland and Portugal have taken as its borrowing rates in bond markets remain exorbitantly high. The yield, or interest rate, on its benchmark 10-year bonds was at 6.78% on Monday.

Spain's banks, stung by a burst real estate bubble, are already being bailed out by other eurozone countries for up to 100 billion euro (£78.6 billion).

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