Spain protests rage on ahead of vote

Demonstrators with their mouths taped up participate in a protest against Spain’s economic crisis at the Puerta del Sol square in the capital Madrid on May 20, 2011.
Mass protests in Spain against unemployment and tight austerity measures continue for a seventh consecutive day despite a pre-election ban on demonstrations.

Tens of thousands of Spaniards converged in squares in several cities across the country early Saturday to express their fury at what they described as the Socialist government’s ineptitude to tackle the growing financial crisis in the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy, AFP reported.

In Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square, where protesters have built a camp nearly a week ahead of Sunday’s regional and municipal elections, people chanted anti-government slogans and vowed to continue their protests in defiance of a 48-hour ban on demonstrations, which took effect on Saturday.

On Thursday, Spain’s electoral commission said protests planned for Saturday and Sunday were illegal as they “go beyond the constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate.”

“Now we are all illegal,” and “The people united will never be defeated,” were among the chants of the protesters in the emblematic square in the capital.

Several cities, including Barcelona, Granada, Seville, Valencia and Zaragoza have also been the scene of demonstrations against soaring jobless rates as well as the rampant corruption.

Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialist Party is widely expected to suffer huge losses in Sunday’s polls, said he respected the protesters who voiced their grievance against the economic crisis “in a peaceful manner.”

Spain’s unemployment rate soared to 21.29 percent, with 4.9 million jobless, for the first quarter of 2011, according to the official government statistics published in late April.

In May 2010, Zapatero’s government introduced a string of drastic austerity measures, including cuts in civil servants pay as part of plans to curb the budget deficit from 11 percent a year earlier to within the 3 percent of GDP limit set by the European Union by 2013.

The Socialist candidates are forecast to lose grounds in several Spanish cities, including Barcelona, Seville and the Castilla-La Mancha region in Sunday’s polls.

More than 34 million people are eligible to pick 8,116 mayors, 68,400 town councilors and 824 members of regional parliaments for 13 of the 17 semi-autonomous regions.


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