Thousands defy ban to demonstrate in Spain

AP , Thursday 19 May 2011

Spaniards challenge ban, camping out in their thousands in main Madrid square demanding "genuine democracy" and protesting against their political parties for failing to deal with the economic crisis

People take part in a demonstration in Madrid Tuesday, (AP).

Thousands of Spaniards defied a ban on a pre-election demonstration and mounted a protest camp in the heart of the Spanish capital to express anger at political parties and the country's handling of the economic crisis.

The crowds packed Puerta del Sol square overnight Thursday and pledged to stay there until after municipal and regional elections this weekend.

The Madrid electoral board banned the demonstration Wednesday evening saying it could influence the elections Sunday. But the ruling appeared to have the opposite affect and - spurred on by social media messages - thousands of people of all ages swarmed into the square.

Some 500 riot police stood guard but did not intervene.

Similar overnight protests, albeit smaller in size, have taken place in several cities, including Barcelona and Seville, in recent days.

The demonstrators have a range of complaints but are united behind the slogan of "Genuine Democracy Now." They see the mainstream political parties as incompetent, corrupt and pro-business and are angry that ordinary people have had to suffer the brunt of the austerity measures aimed at resolving the economic crisis.

Spain is battling to emerge from nearly two years of recession that has left it with a swollen deficit and a staggering 21.3 percent unemployment rate.

The demonstrations, initially organized by students and unemployed and disaffected youths, are a spillover from countrywide demonstrations last Sunday. They have triggered a lively debate throughout the country on how the crisis has been handled by the politicians and financial institutions.

Jose Delgado Marquez, a 72-year-old retiree, said he went to the protest Wednesday out of solidarity with his children.

"Fortunately, they have work but they earn next to nothing and are always worried about getting laid off," Marquez told the Associated Press. "This movement has to carry on. The protesters have to stick it out." In Madrid, the protesters set up tents to keep dry or protect them from the sun. They used cardboard sheets to lie on and distributed blankets. They also set up free food and drink stalls.

The ruling Socialist party of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is tipped to suffer a resounding defeat in the local elections. In turn, the leading conservative opposition Popular Party is expected to make huge gains.

General elections are not scheduled until 2012.

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