Spain`s election commission says weekend protests illegal

Thousands of people angry over the economic crisis are scheduled to protest.

Updated: May 20, 2011, 13:05 PM IST

Madrid: Spain`s electoral commission declared late Thursday that protests set for this weekend by thousands of people angry over the economic crisis are illegal.

The Central Electoral Commission (JEC) said protests planned for Saturday and for Sunday, the day when regional and municipal polls are scheduled, "go beyond the constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate”.

The JEC was to inform the regional electoral commissions as well as the state attorney general of its decision.

Spanish media said the commission voted by five votes to four with one abstention in favour of the ban after six and a half hours of deliberations.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba earlier said the government was awaiting a decision from the JEC to decide whether to order police to disperse the protesters.

But he stressed that the police are "looking to resolve problems not create more”.

Young people are camped in main squares across Spain in the largest spontaneous protests since the country plunged into recession after the collapse of a property bubble in 2008.

At the spearhead in Madrid, organisers rallied thousands in the central Puerta del Sol square to decry politicians who left Spain with a 21-percent jobless rate.

Calling for "Real Democracy Now”, the protests popularly known as M-15 began May 15, lamenting Spain`s economic crisis, politicians in general, and corruption.

They have vowed to press on with the protests through Saturday, `a day of reflection` ahead of the elections, and on voting day itself on Sunday.

"We are not politicians and we are not engaging in political campaigning," a spokesman for the organisers, Juan Cobo, said earlier on Thursday. And on Sunday they would "respect the electoral process”.

In its ruling, the JEC said it was its duty to ensure "transparency and objectivity of the electoral process and the principle of equality."

"In the days of election and voting our law bans the staging of any act of propaganda or electoral campaigning," it said.

On an election day it is illegal to form groups "likely to interfere in any manner whatsoever with the access to polling places" as is "the presence of those who may hinder or coerce the free exercise of voting rights."

The Socialist Party of Spain`s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is facing a rout in the elections.

Even before the protests, polls tipped devastating losses for the Socialists as voters take revenge for the destruction of millions of jobs and painful spending cuts, including to state salaries.

Zapatero declared earlier Thursday that the protesters "deserve our respect" but he insisted that any change must come "through voting”.

"While it is hard for young people today to see the results of the reforms, the results will come," he said at a rally in the northern city of La Coruna for Sunday`s municipal and regional elections.

Earlier, Zapatero told Spain`s Telecinco channel the government "must listen" to the concerns of the protesters "because there are reasons for expressing this discontent and criticism”.

Bureau Report