Thousands of demonstrators hit the streets across Spain on Saturday in protest at the soaring cost of food, light and fuel.
This high cost of living and harsh economic condition in Europe’s fourth biggest economy have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The rallies, which took place in Spain’s main cities, were called by the far-right Vox party which sought to tap into growing social discontent over the spiralling cost of living that has left many families struggling to pay their bills.
Outside City Hall in Madrid, a crowd of several thousand people gathered, waving hundreds of Spanish flags and chanting angry slogans calling for the resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
“Sanchez, you’re rubbish, bring down our bills!” they shouted, between patriotic cries of “Long live Spain!” at a rally demanding government action to lower prices.
“We have the worst possible government.. It’s not even a government, it’s a misery factory… which plunders and extorts workers through abusive taxes,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal told the rally to rousing cheers.
“We will not leave the streets until this illegitimate government is expelled.”
This government “is taking everything from us”, said Anabel, a 56-year-old demonstrator who didn’t give her surname.
“They hike the light and gas prices and say it’s because of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, but that’s a lie. It was like this before,” she told AFP.
“Light prices really affect (my family) because some of us work from home, and we can hardly put the heating on because the price of gas has almost doubled over the past six months.”
‘Abandoning the people’
Many said government should be lowering taxes to help those struggling.
“A country that raises prices in this way and doesn’t help its citizens by partially lowering taxes, is abandoning its people,” said Francisco, 53, who is unemployed and didn’t give his family name.
“We have to force the government to act — or remove them, for Spain’s sake.”
Spain’s main right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) has also demanded the government immediately lower taxes.
“Taxes must be lowered at once! We can’t live with prices that are over 7.0 percent and growing,” said incoming PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo on Saturday, referring to Spain’s annual inflation, which jumped to 7.6 percent in February, its highest level in 35 years.
Last year, energy prices soared by 72 percent in Spain, one of the highest increases within the European Union, and costs have surged even higher since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a crisis that comes hot on the heels of the pandemic.
On Monday, Spanish lorry drivers declared an open-ended strike over fuel prices which soon mushroomed into multiple roadblocks and protests, triggering supply chain problems.
Rising prices have also prompted the UGT and the CCOO, Spain’s two biggest unions, to call a national strike on March 23.
Government minister Felix Bolanos pledged the government would unveil its planned steps to reduce the cost of energy and fuel on March 29, accusing Vox of seeking to profit from a difficult situation.
“The far-right is always stirring up problems and complicating things, no matter how difficult they are… They are not patriots they are troublemakers,” he told Spain’s public television.
Sanchez is currently on a European tour to lobby for a common EU response to soaring energy prices.
Madrid has for months urged its European partners to change the mechanism which couples electricity prices to the gas market, but its pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears, despite support from Paris.