MADRID (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of students took to the streets of Spanish cities on Wednesday to protest against government spending cuts that have left many classrooms without heating.
The protests were largely peaceful in Madrid and Valencia but turned violent in Barcelona, where youths set fire to garbage containers and broke windows outside the stock exchange.
The Spanish economy is facing a brutal year of austerity cuts needed for the country to meet tough deficit reduction targets imposed by Brussels in order to reassure investors on the future of the euro zone.
A heavy-handed response by police to student protests in Valencia last week drew widespread anger in a country that has so far not seen violent Greek-style demonstrations.
Analysts expect protests to intensify as cuts to public services become more commonplace. Youth unemployment in Spain is just shy of 50 percent, according to Eurostat data.
The Students' Union said an estimated 70,000 people protested in Barcelona and 60,000 in Valencia, though police estimated less than half those figures
Young people carried placards bearing slogans such as "For sale: public education," "This is not a country for the young" and "Students, not delinquents."
Spain's 17 autonomous regions have begun to cut budgets for education and healthcare, the two areas they have full control over, but are still struggling to bring down deficits to help the central government meet its own target.
(Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; writing Nigel Davies)