Spain vows measured response to pre-vote protests

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Spanish police will enforce the law against protesters who defy a ban on demonstrations during weekend elections but will not overreact, the interior minister said Friday.

"Democracy is fundamental. There is no democracy if the laws are not enforced," Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told a news conference following a cabinet meeting.

Thousands of people have massed in city centres across the country in the biggest spontaneous protests since the property bubble exploded in 2008 and plunged Spain into recession.

Calling for "Real Democracy Now," the protests popularly known as M-15 began May 15, lamenting Spain's soaring unemployment, economic crisis, politicians in general, and corruption.

The electoral commission late on Thursday declared that protests planned for Saturday and for Sunday, the day of regional and municipal elections, are illegal as they "go beyond the constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate."

Saturday is by law "a day of reflection" ahead of the vote, meaning political activity is barred.

But organisers of the spearhead protest in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square have vowed to defy the ban and press on the with the demonstrations.

"We will enforce the law but in a proportional way," Rubalcaba said. "Police will take decisions according to developments."

Asked specifically if police would disperse the protesters, he refused to say.

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

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

"My obligation is to listen, be sensitive, try to give an answer from the government so that we can recover the economy and employment as soon as possible," Zapatero told radio Cadena Ser.

He said the government was studying the electoral commission's decision and would wait to see how the protests develop on Saturday.

"In any case we should not get ahead of ourselves. What we can say is that, as I think has been the case up to now, the interior ministry will act well, correctly, with intelligence."

© 2011 AFP

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