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(Reuters) - Workers hit by lower living standards and record high unemployment staged May Day protests across Europe on Wednesday, hoping to persuade their governments of the case for easing austerity measures and boosting growth.
In the debt-laden euro zone countries of Spain, Greece, Italy and France tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand jobs and an end to years of belt-tightening.
In Spain, where the economy has shrunk for seven consecutive quarters and unemployment stands at a record 27 percent, thousands of people snaked up Madrid's Gran Via central shopping street carrying placards reading "austerity ruins and kills".
"The future of Spain looks terrible; we're going backwards with this government," said former civil servant Alicia Candelas, 54, who has been without a job for two years.
Unions said 50,000 people marched in Madrid and more than 1 million took part in peaceful rallies across the country. There was no independent estimate, and police did not give a figure.
Trains and ferries were cancelled in Greece, and bank and hospital staff walked off the job after unions there called a 24-hour strike, the latest in a string of protests in a country in its sixth year of recession.
About 1,000 police officers were deployed in Athens, but the demonstration passed off peacefully, with about 5,000 striking workers, pensioners and students marching to parliament holding banners reading: "We won't become slaves, take to the streets!".
Earlier, hundreds of protesters affiliated with the Communist KKE party made a clenched-fist salute on Syntagma Square, scene of clashes between police and protesters during previous protests.
"The economy won't be resurrected by the bankrupt banks and the corrupt political system but by the workers and their fight," Alexis Tsipras, leader of the anti-bailout Syriza party, told protesters.
Harsh measures to cut Greece's budget deficit are a condition of its international bailout, imposed on Athens to save it from a chaotic bankruptcy and euro exit.
But there were fewer protesters on the streets than last year when 100,000 marched on Syntagma Square. The May 1 holiday falls just before Greek Orthodox Easter, so public schools were shut and many workers had left for holidays.