Tens of thousands march to support Spanish anti-austerity party

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Madrid on Saturday in support of new anti-austerity party Podemos, a week after Greece elected its hard-left ally Syriza.

AFP| Last Updated: Jan 31, 2015, 18:44 PM IST

Madrid: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Madrid on Saturday in support of new anti-austerity party Podemos, a week after Greece elected its hard-left ally Syriza.

The protesters chanted "Yes we can!" as they made their way from Madrid city hall to the central Puerta del Sol square. The party and its anti-austerity message have been surging in polls ahead of elections later this year.

"There are many people that agree with the need for change. Enough already with stealing -- that the corrupt take everything and we can`t do anything," said Dori Sanchez, a 23-year-old unemployed teacher who came from Manovar in southeastern Spain for the rally.

Podemos said 260 buses brought supporters to the capital from across Spain for the "March for Change", with hundreds of locals signed on to host travellers.

Demonstrators carried banners that read "Universal Basic Income," "Tick, tock its time for change" and "Together we can".

Syriza beat mainstream Greek parties by pledging to end austerity, as Podemos aims to do in Spain`s general election due in November.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, a 36-year-old pony-tailed former university professor, appeared alongside Syriza`s Alexis Tsipras, now Greece`s prime minister, to publicly support him during his campaign.

Podemos was formed just a year ago, but has surged in opinion polls with promises to fight what Iglesias calls the traditional "caste" of political leaders.

Like Syriza, Podemos has found popular support by targeting corruption and rejecting austerity programmes aimed at lifting the countries out of deep economic crisis.

It wants to prevent profitable companies from firing people, abolish private hospitals to return to a fully state-controlled health care system and enact a "significant" minimum-wage hike.

The party has struck a chord with Spaniards enraged by a string of corruption scandals, as well as public spending cuts imposed by the conservative ruling party and previously by the Socialists after the economic crisis erupted in 2008.Spain has now officially exited recession -- the country`s economy grew by 1.4 percent last year, according to provisional data released Friday -- but nearly one in four workers is still unemployed.

Salaries for many people have dropped and the number of workers on low-paid short-term contracts has soared.

Podemos was born out of the "Indignant" protest movement which occupied squares across Spain in 2011 demanding political change at the height of Spain`s economic crisis.

While the street protest movement has died down since 2013, some of the Indignant leaders formed Podemos in January 2014.

Four months later, the party won five seats in the European Parliament, with more than 1.2 million Spaniards voting for it.

Podemos has overtaken the mainstream opposition Socialist Party in several opinion polls, and in some has topped the list ahead of the conservative ruling People`s Party (PP).

The Socialists and the PP have ruled Spain alternately since the country returned to democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned Spaniards not to "play Russian roulette" by supporting Podemos, which he said "promises the moon and the sun" but will not deliver.

Critics of Podemos have accused it of having links to Venezuela`s left-wing leaders and alleged fiscal irregularities by some of its top members.

The party`s leaders have promised to publish their tax returns to dispel the allegations.