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Thousands Protest Cuts In Spanish Health Care, Education

Thousands of people have protested in Spain's capital, Madrid, and more than 50 other cities against new austerity measures aimed at reducing education and health-care spending.

The government on April 20 approved reforms to scrap free prescription medicine for pensioners and charge students higher tuition fees, aiming to save an extra 10 billion euros ($13 billion) a year.

The new cuts come on top of already announced 27 billion-euro ($36 billion) savings in the 2012 budget.

Madrid is aiming to reduce its public deficit to 5.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2012 from 8.5 percent last year.

Spain's unemployment rate reached 24 percent in the first quarter of this year, its highest level since 1996.

More protests are expected this week in Barcelona, before a European Central bank meeting there on May 3.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP