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Anti-austerity strikes rack Europe, but will they foment change?

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But despite the economic pain – unprecedented for most Spaniards – and the support of millions for the strike, it appeared unlikely the governments felt the kind of pressure that would result in a change of course.

Indeed, after loud shouting matches and clashes early on in the day, by early afternoon, streets in Madrid’s center were once again filled with shoppers and tourists and stores reopened, albeit under a heavy presence of police in riot gear.

In the war of words and numbers in Spain, unions claimed historic following while the government and businesses minimized it. Media described slightly smaller support than in the previous strike this year in March. Electricity demand during today's strike, a barometer for the industrial impact, decreased 16 percent, less than in the previous strike.

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos criticized the strike as “not the proper path to reduce uncertainty” over the Spanish economy. “We are conscious of society’s difficulties, but the government plan is the only possible alternative,” he said.

“There are alternatives,” Ignacio Fernández Toxo, leader of Comisiones Obreras, the other major union, told thousands of followers waving flags and chanting. They “will come as a result of public pressure,” he said, threatening the government with more strikes if it doesn’t change course.

However, Spain is largely expected to stay on its current path. For months, the government has delayed an official request for a European bailout, as the cost of borrowing has decreased enough to allow it to secure its financial requirements.

But most agree it is only a question of time for a bailout, something that would almost certainly bring even more austerity to a population already stricken by a 25 percent unemployment rate, rising poverty, and a shrinking welfare system.

Government cuts are insufficient to pay even the interest on an accruing debt and the recessions appears to be worsening, making it virtually impossible to alleviate the crisis any time soon.

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