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Protests block Spain's Catalan parliament

Source: Reuters - Thu 16th Jun 2011

Politicians in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain were forced to enter parliament by helicopter or under police escort on Wednesday as protests mounted against heavy cuts needed to slash its deficit.

The head of the Catalan government, Artur Mas, was flown in by police helicopter along with other politicians after up to 2,000 people blockaded the main entrance, before the parliament began debating a budget that aims to cut public spending by 10 percent.

Financial markets are concerned that regional governments have higher than reported deficits that could have a detrimental effect on the country's central EU-driven public deficit target.

Centre-right party CiU won elections in Catalonia last November and discovered a much wider deficit than the previous government had reported.

Still, economists note that even in the worse case scenario regional deficit excesses would add a only fractionher protests more to the government's central deficit target.

The start of the debate over the Catalan budget was delayed to allow politicians more time to arrive. The mainly young protesters chanted "You do not represent us!" and "Shameless!" while some politicians were sprayed with paint and ducked flying objects.

Catalonia, which accounts for about one-fifth of Spain's wealth, ran a deficit of 3.9% of its gross domestic product last year and has a target - as do all individual regional governments - to reduce it to 1.3% by the end of this year.

Mas said the police would use legitimate force if necessary to tackle the crowds, who were more subdued in the afternoon. Around 30 people were injured earlier, media reports said.

"One thing is freedom of expression and violence is another. They have crossed the red line," Mas said.

Spain's central government is aiming to cut its public debt to 6% of GDP this year from 9.2% in 2010, and markets could force the country's borrowing costs to soar even higher if targets are not met.

Spain has the highest level of unemployment in the European Union and almost half under-25s are jobless, prompting protests across the country over the last month with calls for reform of the voting system and a crackdown on corruption.

Catalonia's budget is expected to get final approval around the end of July.

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