Spanish riot police charge 'indignant' protesters, 20 hurt

5th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

At least 20 people were injured after Spanish riot police late Thursday charged 'indignant' demonstrators who rallied at the interior ministry to protest the closure of Madrid's main square, emergency services said.

It was the most serious incident since the 'indignant' movement began in mid-May against Spain's economic crisis, soaring unemployment and political corruption.

Over 200 police were deployed Thursday for the third straight day to close the Puerta del Sol square and prevent demonstrators from occupying it again.

Hundreds of the demonstrators marched several kilometres across the city Thursday evening to protest the closure, blocking traffic and watched by police helicopters, and then held a rally at the Plaza de Cibeles square.

At around 11pm some reached the interior ministry, on Madrid's main Paseo de la Castellano avenue.

"Suddenly about seven or eight police vans arrived," said Jose Manuel, 30, a passerby. Two minutes later, everyone was running" as the police charged into the crowd.

A spokesman for the emergency services in Madrid told AFP 20 people were slightly injured, seven of them policemen. Most suffered cuts and bruises, but four were hospitalised for observation.

"I saw a man in his seventies lying in the street with a bloody head wound," said one of the protesters, Luis, 36.

He said the trouble began after someone put a poster up on the gates of the ministry saying, "Iceland is the way".

Daily demonstrations followed Iceland's near economic collapse at the end of 2008, which forced the government in Rejkjavik to resign. Spain's 'indignant' movement says it has been inspired by the Icelandic example.

El Pais quoted police as saying they were forced to act after a protester began climbing the gates of the ministry.

Thousands of people set up camp in the Puerta del Sol square ahead of May 22 municipal elections to protest what they see as government's bowing to financial markets and ignoring the needs of ordinary people.

The vast ramshackle protest 'village' was dismantled on June 12 but members of the nationwide 15-M movement, named after its May 15 launch date, had since staffed a wooden information stand in the square round the clock.

But police cleared dozens of protesters who were camped at the information stand and along the central Paseo del Prado avenue in a dawn operation on Tuesday that resulted in no injuries or arrests.

Since then members of the movement have staged daily demonstrations where they try to gain access to the square but are blocked by rows of riot police.

The protesters have won broad public support in their fight against austerity measures, soaring unemployment and corruption-tainted politicians.

Polls show two-thirds of Spaniards sympathise with the indignants.

Spanish police Thursday also complained about that the long hours they have been required to work this week to prevent protesters from gaining access to the square.

The union representing Spain's riot police, SUP, called on the interior ministry to "make a rational use of human resources, of police, because the schedule which riot police have had to put with, with long hours and no breaks, is not tolerable for much longer."

"And this is with a visit by the Pope on the horizon," it added in a statement.

Pope Benedict XVI will visit Madrid from August 18 to 21 to attend the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations which are expected to draw over one million pilgrims.

© 2011 AFP

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