Spanish anti-crisis protesters vow to defy ban

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Protesters fuming over Spain's economic crisis and sky-high jobless rate vowed Wednesday to defy a ban by regional authorities in Madrid and press ahead with demonstrations ahead of weekend local elections.

Hundreds of demonstrators have camped in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square and in cities around the country since the weekend, responding to calls on online social networks, television coverage and the Real Democracy protest organisation.

Some have vowed to stay until the regional and municipal elections on Sunday.

However, electoral authorities in the Madrid region denied an official request by organisers to hold a rally in the Puerta del Sol from 8pm (2000GMT) on Wednesday.

The request was not submitted with 24 hours' notice as required by law and the demonstration "could affect the electoral campaign and the freedom of citizens with the right to vote," a spokeswoman for the election authority in the region said.

But a spokesman for the organisers, Juan Rubio, vowed the protesters would "stay here until election day."

If police try to "remove us we will sit down, everything will be peaceful, and if we are eventually dispersed we will come back tomorrow."

One demonstrator, Carlota Jover, said the electoral board's decision "has no binding effect, therefore there is no ban."

Spain's jobless rate hit 21.19 percent in the first quarter of this year, the highest in the industrialised world. For the young the situation is more desperate: 44.6 percent unemployment for under-25s in February.

Carrying placards reading "Make the guilty pay for the crisis" and chanting "They call this democracy but it is not", the protesters hope to be heard in Sunday's elections.

Mostly peaceful, the protests began May 15, lamenting Spain's economic crisis, politicians in general, and corruption.

In addition to Madrid, protests have been held in Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza and Palma de Majorca.

A social media monitoring tool, Meltwater Buzz, estimated the number of tweets on the demonstrations had gone from 828 on May 13 to more than 82,000 by Tuesday.

"This is a movement that under construction, we are still gathering ideas, organising gatherings for social change," said Rubio.

The protests seem to have caught political parties by surprise.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's ruling Socialist Party was "alarmed" by the protesters, fearing them to be disaffected left-wing supporters who would abandon the party at the ballot box, the leading daily El Pais said.

Weekend polls forecast devastating losses for the Socialists as voters punish them for the government's handling of the economic crisis, including painful austerity measures.

Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative Popular Party, which stands to make huge gains in the elections, said he could understand the protesters' motives.

The youth unemployment rate was "terrible," and unacceptable in a country like Spain, he said.

Polls published in the centre-left El Pais and the conservative El Mundo tipped broad losses for the Socialists including in strongholds such as Barcelona, Seville and the Castilla-La Mancha region. The Socialist Party is "on the edge of a catastrophe," El Mundo predicted.

Zapatero announced on April 2 that he would not stand for a third term in general elections scheduled for March 2012. Some in the party believe a new leader could halt the Socialists' plummeting popularity.

But while the Socialist Party touts its tough economic reforms internationally as a sign that it is repairing Spain's finances, analysts say the party will pay the price at the polls.

"We are tired of the unemployment, the corruption of politicians. It is always the same thing. I have no job and I don't see how I can get one any time soon," said 25-year-old Jordi Perez in Madrid.

"They have to know how we feel," Perez said.

© 2011 AFP

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