Around 200 Spanish miners set out Friday on a march set to culminate July 11 in Madrid with a protest against government plans to slash subsidies to the coal sector.

Family, friends and neighbors gathered in several towns in the northern regions of Asturias and Leon and the east-central region of Teruel to give the marchers an enthusiastic send-off.

The "Black March" follows more than three weeks of strikes and sometimes-violent protests against projected cuts of more than 60 percent in government support for the coal mining industry in the context of a broad austerity program.

Thousands of people cheered in Mieres, Asturias, as 80 miners began the 400-kilometer (248-mile) journey to the capital singing an anthem to St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners.

In Bembibre, Leon, a crowd congregated in the main square to salute the 25 area miners taking part in the procession.

One of the marchers, Belarmino Bernardo, identified himself as a colleague of the seven miners who have spent more than a month underground as part of a protest at the Santa Cruz del Sil mine and said he was "very happy" to be able to play a role in the struggle to preserve the coal-mining industry. EFE