PROTESTS

Thousands take to Valencia streets in protest against police violence and education cuts

Demonstrators of all ages come out in support of students

Calls for resignation of government delegate multiply

Crowds gather outside school were marches began

Crowds of protestors gather outside the Lluís Vives school in Valencia on Tuesday afternoon. / KAI FÖRSTERLING (EFE)

Following violent confrontations between students and police on Monday, thousands of demonstrators marched once more from Valencia’s Lluis Vives public school on Tuesday afternoon, wielding textbooks in their hands and calling for the resignations of a host of government officials.

Similar protests popped up in Alicante and Madrid’s Sol square, where police armed with rubber bullets and shields kept a close watch. At press time, no incidents had been reported.

“Our weapons are our books,” said the students in Valencia. Parents, teachers and other adults joined them in what was the biggest gathering since last Wednesday’s demonstration, called to protest the regional cuts in education, which have left many classrooms without heating.

Compared to the past few days, there was little police presence at the school and along the march route, although a police helicopter was flying above the demonstrators.

Regional officials, including the government’s delegate in Valencia, Paula Sánchez de León, appeared to have backed down from the hardline stance taken against the students over the past few days. The Interior Ministry ordered the police to use restraint after receiving an avalanche of complaints from parents who said that there was an excessive use of force by the police, after they saw their children on television beaten, thrown around and pinned down. The students began protesting the cutbacks last Wednesday in a demonstration in front of the school, which ended with the arrest of 10 students.

On Monday, police once again clashed with students in violent confrontations that left a number of demonstrators injured.

Twenty people were arrested. In a radio interview, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said that the police were “forced to act” after they had been “violently attacked.”

Calls for the resignation of the government delegate Sánchez de León were on the rise on Tuesday, while similar calls were heard regarding executives of Radio Television Valencia (RTVV), for what critics called biased reporting about the protests.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said Tuesday he believed that police in Valencia may have used “some excessive force” during the clashes with students in the previous days but defended the overall police action.

Nevertheless, representatives of the police union SUP called the interior minister’s statements “political and personal cowardliness” for blaming law enforcement for the violence. SUP said that it was Sánchez de León and police chief Antonio Moreno who gave the orders to move in on the demonstrators, and said that they had both “committed a serious error” in judgment. The images captured on video of police roughing up students flashed across television screens around the world.

In London, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that Spain “cannot provide this image” of violence to the world, and called for restraint. “Everyone has the right to protest but they need to understand that law enforcement officers have their duties to fulfill.”

Sánchez de León promised a full inquiry to determine if some officers went to extremes.

Students, parents and their supporters had also gathered in front of the Popular Party (PP) headquarters in Valencia for another demonstration. Alberto Ordóñez, the president of the Valencia Federation of Students (Faavem), said the students who were arrested on Monday were released with charges pending. In all about 38 people have been charged since the protests began on Wednesday. Ordóñez met with Sánchez de León to demand that she stepped down.

Complaints about the confrontations not only came from parents and other citizens but also the opposition political parties, who have called for Fernández Diaz’s resignation.

Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said the images he saw on TV were “intolerable,” and he called on the interior minister to explain them when he appears before Congress.

For her part, Soraya Rodríguez, the Socialist spokeswoman in Congress, called on Fernández Díaz to “belie” Sánchez de León for saying Monday night that she had hoped that day’s protests “ended up being an anecdote that is not repeated.”

In reference to police chief Antonio Moreno’s statements, calling the protesting students “the enemy” (see below), members of the United Left (IU) coalition in Congress held up signs that read: “I too am the enemy.”

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