- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MADRID — Riot police fired rubber bullets Wednesday at Spanish coal miners protesting in the streets of Madrid over subsidy cuts they fear will jeopardize their meager livelihood.

The miners’ march into the capital was the culmination for some of a nearly three-week trek from the regions where they eke out a living.

Miners who walked 18 days from northern and eastern mining regions were received as heroes on Tuesday night as they entered the Puerta del Sol, one of the city’s main plazas.

Their protest has inspired sympathizers who see the miners’ struggle as symbolic of Spain’s wider troubles and the unfair burden they believe politicians have put on Spain’s middle and working class.

At least one volley of rubber bullets was fired directly at miners, relatives and sympathizers Wednesday as they gathered outside Spain’s Industry Ministry after marching up Madrid’s main north-south avenue, detonating powerful firecrackers along the way.

The clashes with police and the rubber bullets sent people scurrying for safety.

Olvidio Gonzalez, 67, a retired miner from the northern Asturias region, was hit in leg by a rubber bullet Wednesday and fell to ground. Rescue workers took him away on a stretcher. A huge, round, bloody welt marked the spot where bullet hit.

“We were walking peacefully to get to where the union leaders were speaking and they started to fire indiscriminately. There was no warning,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

Protester Santiago Oviedo, 24, a physics master’s degree candidate, said he saw protesters hurling fireworks, bottles and cans at police behind a cordon outside the ministry.

People panicked and ran, Mr. Oviedo said, adding that he saw at least 10 hit by rubber bullets.

Spain, which is struggling with a severe financial crisis that has sent unemployment and government costs soaring, imposed further austerity measures Wednesday as it unveiled sales tax increases and spending cuts aimed at shaving $79.85 billion off the state budget over the next 2 1/2 years.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned Parliament that Spain’s future is at stake as it grapples with recession, a bloated deficit and investor wariness of its sovereign debt.

The miners, wearing hard hats and carrying walking sticks, had snaked along the avenue under a hot sun to protest a 63 percent cut in subsidies to mining companies imposed by the government as it battles a deep recession, a bloated deficit and nearly 25 percent unemployment.

David Menendez, 30, from the Asturias region, came down by bus with relatives and fellow miners.

He has worked in the pits for 10 years and fears losing his job in an economy with few prospects for anything else. He wore a miner’s hard hat and a black T-shirt that read “Proud to be a miner” on the front and “The miners’ struggle” on the back.

“I’m here to defend my work,” Mr. Menendez said, adding that he was outraged by new tax increases and austerity measures announced by Mr. Rajoy’s government just hours before the protest.

“Rajoy is committing crimes against the economy and killing it,” Mr. Menendez said. “It’s just cuts and more cuts.”

The new spending cuts, designed to cut $80 billion from state budgets by 2015, include a new wage cut for civil servants and members of Parliament and a new wave of closures at state-owned companies.