MADRID (AP) — Thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of 16 Spanish cities Sunday to protest plans to part-privatize the public health care system, with some questioning the government's motives.

It was the third "white tide" demonstration in Madrid, named after the color of the medical scrubs many protesters wear. But it was the first time cities other than the capital took part, including Barcelona, Cuenca, Murcia, Pamplona, Toledo and Zaragoza. Protesters marched carrying banners saying "Public health is not to be sold, it's to be defended."

Health care and education are administered by Spain's 17 semiautonomous regions. Some indebted ones, like Madrid, have announced the part-privatization of some services, with some people openly suspicious that the move is more a political-motivated ploy than an attempt to cut costs.

Civil servant Javier Tarabilla, 31, said Spain's welfare state was being dismantled to be handed over to the private sector.

"This is pillaging of our public services, looting something we've all contributed to through taxes, to give it to private companies to run for profit," he said.

Madrid regional health councilor Javier Fernandez-Lasquetty has called the protests irresponsible, saying public money savings were essential to lift Spain out of debt and onto the road of economic recovery.

"These protests create conflict and are not in the interest of public health, but they do favor the interests of those who organize them," Fernandez-Lasquetty said.

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