Spanish anti-crisis demos bridge generation gap

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Since Monday, 72-year-old Eufemiano de Cespedes has spent his days at Madrid's Puerta del Sol square among thousands of young people camped at a tent village that has sprung up in protest against the economic crisis.

"A miracle, it's a miracle, finally our young people have woken up to say they've had enough!"

All day, De Cespedes scuttles busily between tents, under the blue tarpaulins that cover much of Puerta del Sol square, helping and listening to protesters.

"Last night, I brought them food -- bread, ham, cheese and sausage."

Dressed in a well-ironed yellow shirt, panama hat and proudly wearing a badge that says "Social Justice", the former employee of th oil giant Repsol sees himself as their protector.

"You have to look after them, I would not like anything bad to happen to them," he said.

"Tonight I'll go to sleep at home as I'm too tired to spend the night here like these young people."

In supporting the protests, he is also thinking of his two grandchildren, aged 20 and 21. "I want a better world for them," he said.

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

"It's sad, young people have no future but are still much better prepared than we were at the time," said de Cespedes, a former anarchist under the 1939-75 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Like him, dozens of other retirees have joined the youths in the Puerta del Sol camp.

Aged in their 60s and 70s, they could only have dreamed of expressing their opinions so openly under the dictatorship.

In the camp's "dialogue zone" young and old talk incessantly, debating politics and the economy in discussion groups that spring up spontaneously.

The generational mix is striking.

Rafael, 22 and unemployed with long hair, an ACDC T-shirt and Doc Martens shoes, listens to Aida Aguiano, a 72-year-old woman impeccably dressed wearing Ray Ban sunglasses and pearl earrings.

"Above all, don't drink alcohol and stay peaceful, otherwise you're going to give the authorities an excuse to ban your protest," said the former art history teacher.

"It's a great chance for them to express themselves," added 70-year-old Isabel Carillo. "In our time, we envied the May 1968 revolts in France."

She said she remembers being arrested during a protest under the Franco regime in the same Puerta del Sol square.

Luisa Rodrigo, 76, has just signed a petition in support of the demonstrations.

"I don't understand why young people haven't taken action before," she said. "We (the older generation) should also mobilise. It's hard to live on a pension of 370 euros a month."

© 2011 AFP

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