ALLER, Spain (AP) — Striking coal workers blocked roads with burning tires and fired missiles at police to stop them breaking up protests in northern Spain Tuesday, officials from the recession-hit country said.
While some miners have remained underground for 23 days, thousands of others in the northern provinces of Asturias and Leon set tires alight — sending plumes of black smoke into the night sky — to highlight calls for negotiations on job cuts, said Anibal Vazquez, mayor of Mieres.
Jose Angel Fernandez of the General Workers' Union said protesters had decided to use the "strong tactics" because police in riot gear had fired tear gas and used baton-charges.
"We have been using lengths of pipe to aim skyrockets, slings, golf ball launchers and even a homemade device to fire potatoes to keep the police away," said Gerardo Cienfuegos, 39, who has been a miner since he was 16 years-old.
Mining has been an integral part of the economy of the two northern provinces since Roman times. Many miners are worried that government cuts — including a reduction in mining subsidies from €300 million to €110 million ($375 million-$137 million) — will mean the end of their industry.
Some 8,000 miners work in northern Spain, said Fernandez, who added that the sector had been making big strides to become self-sufficient but the cuts would come at the worst possible time.
"The cuts proposed by the government will mean the death of mining here and the end of hope for many youngsters new to mining," said Vazquez, 57, who was elected mayor after working 27 years underground.
Spain is applying across-the-board cutbacks as part of an economic overhaul aimed at slashing its swollen deficit and reducing the country's near 25 percent unemployment rate.
Several thousand miners clashed with police in Madrid early in June as they marched to complain that stripping government aid would doom their sector to collapse. Police baton-charged one group that was throwing stones and bottles, arresting two people and nine were slightly hurt.
Heckle contributed from Madrid.