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Dublin: 0 °C Saturday 18 January, 2020
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Spanish demonstrators defy ban and protest against unemployment and politicians

Protesters have been inspired by similar demonstrations in the Middle East and Arab world and are rallying against 21 per cent unemployment and what they see as political ineptitude.

Demonstrators rise their hands as they shout slogans during a protest at Sol square, in Madrid on Friday.
Demonstrators rise their hands as they shout slogans during a protest at Sol square, in Madrid on Friday.
Image: Emilio Morenatti/AP/Press Association Images

TENS OF THOUSANDS of people have defied a pre-election ban on demonstrations and protested against unemployment in squares around Spain in defiance of an order to quit at midnight last night.

The government avoided saying if it would order police to break up the crowds on Saturday, but at the stroke of midnight officers kept a discreet presence on the edges of the demonstrations.

Demonstrators kept quiet as city clocks chimed the beginning of a new day, many with sticky tape over their mouths in a gesture organizers said suggested they have things to say but were being gagged by the ban.

People are angry over Spain’s high unemployment rate and what they see as the national political parties’ ineptitude in dealing with a deep economic crisis.

Protesters built a camp in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square Sunday, a week ahead of nationwide elections. Since then good-natured, peaceful and colorful gatherings have sprung up and grown around the country under the banner of “Real Democracy Now.”

Many protesters have said they were influenced by recent pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East and one popular chant is “Join us.”

Friday was the last day for candidates to campaign for the election for municipal and regional government positions in much of the country. Citing the mandatory end of campaigning, the national election commission banned protests Saturday and on Sunday, voting day.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not say whether he would order police to break up demonstrations.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba was also cagey about how the government would deal with the protesters, although he said the police would not act to make things worse.

Initially he said the government will “enforce the law,” but he then toned down this stance, saying “The police are not going to resolve one problem by creating another.”

The ruling Socialist party is widely expected to suffer big losses at the polls, perhaps even in traditional strongholds, having been forced by the crisis to introduce austerity measures.

The government is presiding over an economy struggling to overcome recession and create jobs to chip away at a 21.3 percent jobless rate, the highest in the eurozone.

Organizers of the protests say that they have no party affiliation, are not trying to affect the election outcome in any way, and are not even urging people to abstain from voting.

“Campaign posters are still going to be up, so why ban people from freely mingling to exchange ideas,” said graphic designer Antonio Quiroga, 27.

- AP

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