Defiant Spanish protesters warn 'we're here to stay'

21st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Spanish youths furious over soaring unemployment kept up their week-long protest movement Saturday on the eve of local elections expected to deal the ruling Socialists a crushing defeat.

"We intend to continue, because this is not about Sunday's elections it's about social cutbacks," said Carmen Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the organisers at the ramshackle protest 'village' that has sprung up in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square.

Thousands of people have massed in city centres across the country in a snowballing movement that began May 15, the biggest spontaneous protests since the property bubble burst in 2008 and plunged Spain into a recession from which it only emerged this year.

Spain's electoral commission on Thursday declared that protests planned for Saturday and Sunday were illegal as they "go beyond the constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate."

Saturday is by law "a day of reflection" ahead of regional and municipal elections, meaning political activity is barred.

But the Socialist government, facing a rout in Sunday's polls, has resisted ordering any police intervention.

"The government has not given such an (evacuation) order" and "this will continue provided that there are no riots or crimes," an interior ministry source said.

Under the slogan of "Real Democracy Now", the protests, popularly known as M-15, were called to condemn joblessness, the economic crisis, politicians in general, corruption and government austerity measures.

In the spearhead protest, some 25,000 people staged a brief silent protest in the Puerta del Sol square late on Friday, their hands in the air and many with their mouths covered by tape.

The crowd then erupted in whistles and cheers of joy as a 48-hour ban took effect at the chimes of midnight.

"Now we are all illegal," shouted the protesters.

"From Tahrir to Madrid to the world, world revolution," said one of the placards in the Spanish capital, referring to Tahrir Square in Cairo which was the focal point of the Egyptian revolution earlier this year.

The organisers plan another mass demonstration for late Saturday in the Puerta del Sol, where the protest camp has been set up under blue tarpaulins and divided into "zones" that include a kitchen, a pharmacy, a library, a workshop and a children's centre.

Thais Ribera, 23 and unemployed, said she had traveled from the northwestern region of Galicia on Thursday.

"I'm here because everything has to change, not just in Spain but throughout Europe," she said.

"When I have children I want to be able to look them in the eyes," she said, carrying a cardboard sign round her neck that read, "Thank you. You have given me back faith in human beings."

She planned to enter a blank ballot in Sunday's election "as I don't have enough choice," she said.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has voiced sympathy for the protesters, saying they were reacting to unemployment and the economic crisis "in a peaceful manner."

Spain's unemployment rate soared to 21.19 percent in the first quarter of this year, the highest in the industrialised world. For under-25s, the rate in February was 44.6 percent.

Even before the protests, polls forecast devastating losses for Zapatero's Socialist Party as voters take revenge for the loss of millions of jobs and painful spending cuts, including to state salaries.

More than 34 million people are eligible to vote Sunday, choosing 8,116 mayors, 68,400 town councillors and 824 members of regional parliaments for 13 of the 17 semi-autonomous regions.

Polls predict the Socialists would lose control of strongholds such as the cities of Barcelona and Seville and the Castilla-La Mancha region.

© 2011 AFP

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