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Javier Bardem joins Spanish demonstrators

Spanish actor Javier Bardem attends a protest against government austerity measures in Madrid July 19, 2012. A protest movement against the centre-right Spanish government's latest austerity measures swelled on Thursday as public sector workers stepped up demonstrations in Madrid and around the country after more than a week of spontaneous action. The placard reads, "Culture is not a luxury."

SUSANA VERA/REUTERS

Spanish film star Javier Bardem joined a mass street protest Thursday against economic crisis measures that he said are ruining Spain's cultural sector and the country generally.

The Hollywood star, bearded and wearing dark sunglasses and a simple blue t-shirt, joined hundreds of fellow artists in a demonstration outside the culture ministry, part of a wider workers' protest in the streets of Madrid.

Bardem, known for his Oscar-winning role as a hitman in the movie "No Country for Old Men," echoed the public workers' complaint that a sales tax rise and other austerity measures will punish ordinary Spaniards unfairly.

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"This is a very unjust situation because the government, rather than making the financial sector pay for the consequences of what they've done, they put all the weight on unemployed people, sick people, pensioners," he told AFP.

Bardem said he was "privileged" to make a living from acting in films outside Spain, at a time when many of his fellow Spaniards are leaving the country to look for work abroad.

"They're going to empty this country, killing the future for a lot of generations," he said.

A string of daily protests erupted last week when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, under pressure from European authorities, announced new measures aiming to save €65-billion ($80-billion) to slash the public deficit.

The unemployment rate in recession-hit Spain has climbed above 24 percent and critics say the new measures will curb consumption and depress the economy further.

Bardem added his voice to criticism of the austerity policies, particularly a rise in value-added sales tax (VAT) on products including cinema and theatre tickets, which is going to soar from 13 to 21 percent.

"This raising of VAT means that they are generally killing cultural activity in this country," he said.

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