Desperate Spaniards protest austerity measures

(CBS News) MADRID -- All across Europe on Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of people in 23 countries let their leaders know how they felt about severe budget cuts.

It can be hard to tell when countries with already struggling economies are brought to a standstill. But that was the intention of the demonstrators, workers and the unemployed from all walks of life who organized a general strike in Spain and elsewhere.

In Spain, unemployment is at 25 percent.

Javier Encinar lost his phone company job three years ago. "I'm protesting everything," he said. "I mean, there's 500 people -- without homes every day. It's amazing."

As Spain's government tries to cut its debt by raising taxes and cutting jobs and pensions, people have endured about as much as they can take.
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The strike made the economic paralysis all the more obvious. Much of Madrid was closed for business.

Austerity protests stall several European nations

There's growing anger that as the government tries to cut its debt by raising taxes and cutting jobs and pensions, people have endured about as much as they can take.

The suicide of a woman being evicted from her home because she couldn't pay the mortgage has added to the outrage of protesters like Jose Maria Garcia.

"This is a new way of killing. They don't have jobs. How are they going to pay to the banks if they don't have work?" Asked whether people were becoming desperate, Garcia said, "Yes. There are a lot of suicides."

But it's unclear what demonstrations can really accomplish. Economic policy isn't made on the streets of Madrid or in Athens. It's made by the European Union in Berlin and Brussels -- the people who are bank-rolling the bailouts. And that's what's causing frustration.

People feel they've lost control of their own destiny. Protesting and striking are the only options they have.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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