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Strikes in Spain over government budget cuts

Protesters hold union's flags during a demonstration in Sevilla, Spain on March 29, 2012 on a national strike day.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Thousands of protestors are taking to the streets today in Spain. They're objecting to deep government cuts and sweeping reforms there. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union and the government is hoping changes to labor laws will kick-start the economy.

The BBC's Tom Burridge joins me now from Madrid. Good morning.

Tom Burridge: Good morning, Stacey.

Smith: So Tom, you've been out in the streets today. Tell us what you're seeing.

Burridge: Well, in terms of the atmosphere -- a slightly strange atmosphere in the streets of Madrid today. It's not a usual day; there's less traffic, less people. There have been pickets all across Madrid. We saw some demonstrations out in the streets earlier, and those demonstrations are expected to peak this evening, and I think we'll see large crowds. I'd be surprised if we don't see hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Madrid and other big cities across the country.

Smith: Talk to us a little bit about the cuts themselves. What is the government trying to achieve, and what are some of the cuts that strikers are protesting?

Burridge: Let's go back to when the government came into power at the end of last year. So they took power; they said that the financial situation they were left with was a lot worse than they were led to believe by the previous government. So they're now under pressure from Brussels -- officials in the European Union -- to cut their budget deficit; cut their public spending a lot more; raise more revenue in tax. And so there is an impression here in Madrid, and across Spain, that really -- with some people at least -- they feel that the European Union, that Brussels is calling the shots.

Smith: And those are some police helicopters in the background from what I understand -- is that right?

Burridge: That's right. We've got a police helicopter just circling above me now, and as I said, there is a lot of police on the street.

Smith: And Tom, one last question -- how do you expect these strikes to play into the government reforms?

Burridge: I don't think they can have any impact at all on what we're going to see from the government on Friday. The Spanish government has come out and said, "Look, this strike is not going to help us; it's not going to do any good. And ultimately, we're not going to change any of our reforms as a result of these protests."

Smith: The BBC's Tom Burridge in Madrid. Tom, thank you for speaking with us.

Burridge: Thank you.

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