Tens of thousands of Spaniards demonstrated on Thursday against a tough austerity package passed hours earlier by Parliament, accusing the government of “ruining the country.”

Trade unions, which demanded that the package be submitted to a referendum, called marches in more than 80 cities.

Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square was filled to the brim with protesters complaining they were unable to meet their living costs.

Demonstrators included professional groups such as police officers, firefighters and court employees, whose incomes have been slashed. Protesters in Madrid included actor Javier Bardem and other artists, who criticised cuts in subsidies to Spain’s film industry.

Parliament earlier on Thursday gave the go-ahead for an austerity package worth 65 billion euros (80 billion dollars).

It includes a hike in the value-added tax, scrapping of public employees’ Christmas bonuses and tax rebates for mortgage holders, reductions in unemployment benefits and budgets cuts in ministries.

Far from creating jobs, the measures dealt a huge blow to citizens’ living conditions, said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo of the trade union confederation CCOO.

Spain’s economy is expected to contract by about 2 per cent this year while about a quarter of the workforce is unemployed.

The austerity package was approved solely with the votes of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party (PP), which has an absolute majority in Parliament.

Parliament approved an 18 billion euro liquidity fund for the country’s 17 semi-autonomous regions, which are highly indebted.

The regions are largely responsible for the budget deficit of 8.9 per cent, which the austerity package is trying to trim to 6.3 per cent this year and to 2.8 per cent by 2014, as agreed to with the European Union.

Public sector employees and other groups have staged regular rallies against the austerity policies in recent days.

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