Thousands of demonstrators from across Spain gathered at one of Madrid's main squares Saturday to protest against the way the government has tackled the financial crisis by implementing harsh austerity measures.

Organizers had hoped to attract 20,000 protesters to the event, labelled Marches for Dignity, and Saturday evening much of Colon Square and part of Paseo de Recoletos boulevard were packed with people carrying republican flags and banners calling for a general strike.

Hairdresser Dolores Cerezo, 32, who had arrived from southern Sevilla, said the government had cut back "savagely" on public services such as education and the national health service, "but we are seeing many of them now appearing in court suspected of fraud and corruption, of stealing money."

Scuffles broke out after the main rally ended. Riot police clashed with about 200 protesters who had attacked a bank and a police car.