Protesters vow to stay on in major Madrid square

People are protesting political corruption, welfare cuts, high unemployment.

Madrid: Spanish protesters at the vanguard of an anti-crisis movement spreading through Europe voted on Sunday to keep their tent encampment in Madrid`s central square of Puerta del Sol.

They set no date for quitting.

Thousands of people protesting political corruption, welfare cuts and soaring unemployment crowded the square and threw their hands up to agree overwhelmingly with the motion to stay and decide later on the duration.

After the vote they chanted: "We are not going! We are not going!"

Spain`s government said last week it would decide with police whether to clear the protesters in response to demands from the Madrid regional authorities and from local businesses.

Spain`s protests began on May 15 and grew to city squares across the country as word spread by Twitter and Facebook among demonstrators known variously as "the indignant", "M-15" and "Spanish Revolution".

Their nightly rallies peaked with tens of thousands rallying on the eve of Spain`s May 22 local elections, in which the ruling Socialists were crushed by the conservative Popular Party in revenge for the economic crisis.

Even as the economy grew timidly this year, the unemployment rate shot to 21.19 percent in the first quarter, the highest in the OECD club of industrialised nations. For under-25s, the rate in February was 44.6 percent.

On Friday, Catalan anti-riot police fired rubber bullets and swung truncheons to disperse anti-crisis protesters in Barcelona`s Plaza de Cataluna square as cleaning crews cleared their tent camp.

But by that same evening, at least 5,000 people were back in the square protesting the police intervention, and some had put up tents. They remained in the square on Sunday.

Activists spread their action and said they had held assemblies in 120 Madrid neighbourhoods and communes, drawing anything from 10 to 800 protesters. Other cities adopted the same strategy.

Protesters said the success of these rallies, and support from elsewhere including France, convinced them to maintain the encampment, which had already been extended for a week until Sunday.

The activists have constructed a mini-protest village beneath blue plastic sheets that stretches across the square, complete with solar panels for energy, information centres, a crèche, kitchens and lots of sleeping bags.

An estimated 20,000 people assembled in the Greek capital`s central Syntagma Square on Sunday, police estimated, responding to calls on social networking sites for gatherings across Europe to demand "real democracy".

Greece is struggling to build consensus over an unpopular austerity programme agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in return for a huge bailout loan.

About 1,000 people gathered the same day in Paris, unfurling a giant banner on the steps of the opera house that read: "Real democracy now", and another nearby that said: "Paris, wake up!"

Bureau Report

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