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Spain's 'indignant' youth continue protests

(Reuters)
Filed on May 19, 2011

MADRID - After years of patiently riding out Spain's economic slump, thousands of young people have taken to the streets over joblessness and the perceived indifference of mainstream politicians running in local elections on Sunday.


Local media have dubbed the protesters "los indignados (the indignant)" after five days of gatherings in city plazas across the country. In Madrid and Granada protesters defied local bans and remained in the central squares all night on Wednesday.

Spain has the highest jobless level in the European Union, at 21 percent. Unemployment is even higher in the 18-25 age range, at 45 percent, and the few people with jobs are uncertain of their futures.

Protesters say they feel increasingly desperate.

"We are either still living with our parents or having problems with our mortgages. Some of us have kids too ... My company is taking advantage to lay us off now and then rehire us on lower wages when the crisis is over," said Pedro Munoz, a protester in his 30s at Madrid's Puerta del Sol square.

Munoz, wearing reflective work gear, said on Thursday he was on strike from his maintenance job with a subcontractor over terms and layoffs.

Jobless youth mixed with dreadlocked students and activists at the plaza in Madrid, planning another night of protest against the ruling Socialists and the centre-right Popular Party (PP) that control most local governments and who they feel have excluded them.

The Socialists are expected on Sunday to suffer major losses to the opposition PP, even in traditional left-wing strongholds, as left-wing voters stay at home or turn to smaller parties.

Severe austerity measures have helped keep the cost of Spain's public debt down and reduced the chances of a euro zone bailout, but also hampered economic growth and made the government increasingly unpopular.

Spain finally saw an uptick in economic growth in the first quarter largely due to the faster recovery of its main European trading partners, but consumer spending remains worryingly weak.

PROTESTS CONTINUE IN THE RAIN

Puerta del Sol, at the very heart of Madrid and surrounded by landmark buildings, has been the site of protests and rallies back to Civil War times in the 1930s. Like Times Square in New York, it's also where people go for New Year's Eve.

A night of heavy rain only reinforced the number of protesters and makeshift awnings covered half the plaza on Thursday.

Sol's brand new metro station and surrounding scaffoldings were covered with slogans proclaiming "long live the cardboard revolution" and "violence is executive bonuses and lay-offs."

The city banned the protest on Wednesday night but police did not remove demonstrators, limiting themselves to monitoring the square from the edges in riot gear.

The protests have been starting at about 8 p.m. each evening, drawing thousands. Hundreds of people remain camped out during the day.

"Even more people came last night because they thought that the rain would stop us. News (of demonstrations) from other cities also helped us to put up with the rain," said Oscar Rivas, a 37-year-old freelance sound engineer and spokesman for one of the movements in the square.

The crowds have organised themselves through Twitter and social media.

"I can't remember how many jobs I've had over the last few years and all of them with junk contracts (with little or no job protection). At the moment I'm making and selling jewelry," said Jacobo, a 23-year-old part-time student.

The protesters say they will stay in the plazas until Sunday, when 8,116 city councils and 13 of 17 regional legislatures will be elected.

Electoral authorities seem to be against allowing the protests to continue at the weekend, however.

Madrid's electoral oversight body ruled on Wednesday that the movement could damage electoral campaigns and keep people from exercising their right to vote.

That might lead to more attempts to ban the protests, especially on Saturday when campaigning is not allowed and citizens are asked to privately "reflect" on how they will vote.





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