Spanish government warns Madrid protesters

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Spain's government fired a warning Wednesday at protesters encamped in a major Madrid square, saying they cannot flout the rights of local shops.

Protesters angered by Spain's economic crisis have stretched a huge encampment covered by blue plastic sheets across the central square of Puerta del Sol since May 15, annoying nearby shopowners.

"It cannot be that some citizens cut off the rights of others," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told Cadena Ser radio.

"When there are shopkeepers who complain that they are being deprived of their rights or they have difficult getting by, then you have to find an understanding," he said.

Rubalcaba said police action would be proportionate to avoid making things worse. "For the moment we will see how things develop and continue acting in a proportionate and, I think, intelligent manner."

In Barcelona anti-riot police fired rubber bullets and swung truncheons Friday to disperse protesters in the city's Plaza de Cataluna ahead of celebrations of Barcelona's Champions League victory.

By that same evening, however, at least 5,000 people were back in the square and some had put up tents.

In Madrid activists have been publicly debating whether to maintain their protest camp or reduce it, possibly leaving only an information stand, and discussions were to carry on Wednesday.

Debates at the square frequently stretch on late into the night with thousands of participants.

If just one person objects, the debate goes on.

"All we do is speak about the problems of the encampment but we are incapable of taking a decision," one speaker complained during a general assembly on Tuesday.

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

Although their numbers are down from the peak, Madrid protesters agreed Sunday to stay indefinitely in Puerta del Sol square, saying they were at the vanguard of a movement gaining support in Europe.

© 2011 AFP

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