Thousands protest against European Union austerity cuts

The BBC's Tom Burridge in Valencia: "There were huge crowds in the city centre"

Thousands of demonstrators have turned out in European cities to protest against austerity measures.

Spanish students held protests in Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid against cuts to education budgets, which in some instances turned violent.

Unions staged demonstrations in Paris, Athens, Lisbon and Brussels.

The protests come ahead of a European Union summit on Thursday aimed at boosting economic growth and tightening fiscal responsibility.

Union leaders and workers called on EU leaders to find an alternative to cuts to social services and welfare.

In Spain, thousands of schoolchildren and university students left the classroom and took to the streets to protest against education spending cuts.

The BBC's Tom Burridge in Valencia said some schools were so short of funds after failing to receive payments from cash-strapped regional governments that parents had to step in and lend them money.

Young people in Barcelona clashed with the police, with some protesters throwing rocks and setting fire to rubbish bins. Officers in riot gear reportedly charged a crowd of demonstrators outside the city's stock exchange.

Our correspondent said Spanish police were recently widely criticised for using "heavy handed" tactics against students demonstrating in Valencia.

'Enough is enough'

In Greece, union members stopped work for three hours to protest against the government's painful new austerity measures.

They include a a 22% cut in the minimum wage and steep reductions in pensions and benefits.

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Valencia's protest movement against the lack of funding for education had already attracted significant popular support”

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Union protesters in Brussels gathered outside the EU headquarters and national bank as representatives from the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) met with the EU president.

"Enough is enough. Austerity measures do not work,'' ETUC leader Bernadette Segol told Associated Press.

"We have alternatives, and Europe must work for employment and social justice."

EU leaders will meet in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit that will focus on tackling sluggish growth.

According to the European Commission's annual growth survey for 2012, overall EU growth is expected to be as low as 0.6%, with unemployment levels likely to remain at around 10% into 2013.

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