Spain's Zapatero: protesters 'deserve respect'
Spain's prime minister Thursday commended the thousands of young people who have taken to the streets to protest the economic crisis, saying they "deserve our respect."
"It is a peaceful protest that deserves our respect," he said at a rally in the northern city of La Coruna for Sunday's municipal and regional elections.
But he insisted that any change must come "through voting."
"While it is hard for young people today to see the results of the reforms, the results will come," he said.
Young people have camped in main squares across Spain since May 15 in the largest spontaneous protests since the country plunged into recession after the collapse of a property bubble in 2008.
Calling for "Real Democracy Now", the protesters lament Spain's 21-percent jobless rate, economic crisis, politicians in general, and corruption.
Earlier, Zapatero said the government "must listen" to the concerns of the protesters.
"We must be sensitive because there are reasons for expressing this discontent and criticism," he told the private television channel Telecino.
"But after that we need to strengthen, improve like all countries which have achieved higher levels of welfare and which are democratic, with representative democracy and political parties.
"Do the parties need to improve? Yes, of course."
Zapatero's ruling Socialists Thursday faced the prospect of a rout in the local elections.
Even before the protests, polls tipped devastating losses for the Socialists as voters take revenge for the destruction of millions of jobs and painful spending cuts, including to state salaries.
© 2011 AFP