Protesters vow to stay in major Madrid square

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Protesters decrying Spain's economic woes vowed Monday to occupy a major Madrid square indefinitely as the movement spread to Europe, despite the risk of police action.

Thousands of protesters against political corruption, welfare cuts and unemployment had voted by a show of hands late Sunday to stay in the Puerta del Sol square, agreeing to decide later on the duration.

"We have started something in Sol, we have started to spread to the rest of the world, so this is not the time to stop it," said a protest spokesman in the encampment, a sea of blue-plastic tarpaulin covering the square.

"The support we received internationally was very important, it was something that moved us in Sol, especially the mobilisation in Paris was a very big support, and also the mobilisation in Greece."

Some 20,000 people assembled in Athens' central Syntagma Square on Sunday, police estimated, responding to calls on social networking sites for gatherings across Europe to demand "real democracy".

Another 1,000 gathered the same day in Paris, unfurling a giant banner on the steps of the opera house that read: "Real democracy now", and another nearby that said: "Paris, wake up!"

"The support we received internationally was very important, it was something that moved us in Sol, especially the mobilisation in Paris was a very big support, and also the mobilisation in Greece."

Some 20,000 people assembled in Athens' central Syntagma Square on Sunday, police estimated, responding to calls on social networking sites for gatherings across Europe to demand "real democracy".

Another 1,000 gathered the same day in Paris, unfurling a giant banner on the steps of the opera house that read: "Real democracy now", and another nearby that said: "Paris, wake up!"

Spain's protests began May 15 and fanned out to city squares across the country as word spread by Twitter and Facebook among demonstrators known variously as "the indignant", "M-15" and "Spanish Revolution".

Their nightly rallies peaked with tens of thousands protesting on the eve of Spain's May 22 local elections, in which the ruling Socialists were crushed by the conservative Popular Party in revenge for the economic crisis.

Activists said they had held smaller assemblies in 120 Madrid neighbourhoods and communes at the weekend, drawing anything from 10 to 800 protesters. Other cities adopted the same strategy.

Spain's government said last week it would decide with police whether to clear the protesters in response to demands from the Madrid regional authorities and local businesses.

Police in Madrid have been in regular contact with the demonstrators. But the Madrid protest spokesman said police had told them this contact would cease as of Tuesday.

"For the moment we are here indefinitely. We will decide depending on events," he said.

Madrid activists also wanted to protest "political oppression" in Barcelona, where anti-riot police fired rubber bullets and swung truncheons Friday to disperse protesters in Plaza de Cataluna, the Madrid spokesman said.

By that same evening, at least 5,000 people were back in the Barcelona square and some had put up tents. Police said they wanted to clear the square ahead of celebrations of Barcelona's Champions League victory.

The Madrid activists have constructed a mini-protest village beneath blue plastic sheets that stretches across the square, complete with solar panels for energy, information centres, a creche, kitchens and lots of sleeping bags.

Emilio Mena, a 48-year-old unemployed vehicle painter, has been working on the camp's infrastructure committee since the beginning.

"The most important thing is to raise the ceiling because of the heat, it is too low," he said.

Protesters launched the camp empty-handed, Mena said, but Spaniards contributed everything they needed. Priority needs were gasoline, batteries for loudspeakers, fans and ice.


© 2011 AFP

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