Protesters dismantle Madrid square encampment

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Four weeks after spearheading a protest against unemployment and economic woes that took Spain by storm, demonstrators on Sunday dismantled their sprawling encampment in a major Madrid square.

Protesters said the end of the camp in Puerta del Sol square did not mean the end of their movement, which began May 15 and spread from Madrid to city squares nationwide as word spread on Twitter and Facebook.

Some of the demonstrators, who call themselves the "indignant", folded up the blue and green plastic sheets that had sheltered them. Others took hammers to the wooden stalls. Many scraped away stickers and posters plastered to the transparent sides of the Sol metro station.

"We're recycling what we can. The rest we are throwing away," said one protester carrying a pile of boards as a human chain formed to ferry mattresses, cupboards, shelves, plastic chairs and plastic cans to municipal cleaning trucks.

"This is my work table. I am going to keep it as a souvenir," said camp cook Rafael Rodriguez Ballesteros, a 56-year-old unemployed restaurateur, as he gazed at the folding table before going home.

"I am very touched by all the kindness from these young people," he said.

At the peak of the protests ahead of May 22 local elections, tens of thousands of people had packed city squares across Spain to decry welfare cuts, corruption and a jobless rate of 21.29 percent in the first quarter of 2011 -- the highest in the industrialised world.

The activists, whose movement is known as M-15 for its birth date, say they are not giving up.

On Saturday they organized protests in Madrid and other towns and cities where mayors were sworn into office, notably Valencia, Palma de Majorca, Burgos, Alicante, Leon, Vitoria and Zaragoza.

Outside the swearing-in of Madrid's mayor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, on Saturday, scuffles broke out when police tried to remove some protesters sitting outside the exit to the garage to clear a passage for official cars departing after the ceremony.

The protesters have also called for a day of protests on June 19.

"The square will remain a place for assemblies, each district will continue working and we will carry on the movement on the Internet," said a protest spokesman, 19-year-old law student Marcos Quesada.

In the middle of the Madrid square, activists put the finishing touches to a wooden arch-shaped structure, which they say will be a permanent information centre.

"So there will still be a living symbol of Sol," said Irene Rodriguez, a 22-year-old student who worked in the protest camp's "infrastructure committee". She has degrees in architecture and engineering, speaks three languages and is out of work.

The Spanish economy slumped into recession during the second half of 2008 as the global financial meltdown compounded the collapse of the once-booming property market. It stabilized in 2010 and showed slow growth in early 2011.

© 2011 AFP

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