Spain's 'indignant' protesters converge on Madrid
Madrid: Thousands of Spain's "indignant" protesters, including hundreds who crossed the country on foot, marched through Madrid to demonstrate against high unemployment and the economic crisis.
Six columns of more than 500 protesters who marched for weeks from cities across Spain formed the core of the demonstration. They were joined by protesters who arrived in Madrid by bus from over 30 cities and residents of the Spanish capital.
"Cutbacks for the rich first", and "People of Europe rise up", were among the placards on display.
And as the march passed the headquarters of the Bank of Spain, three protesters stripped completely naked.
On their backs, written in red ink, the message read: "Without a house, without money, without clothes."
Earlier, some of those who had marched across Spain to take part in the protest, told of their journey.
"It was very hard because of the heat," said Miguel Angel Ruiz Gallego, who walked to Madrid with about 15 others from the southern port of Malaga, some 600 kilometres (370 miles) away.
"One day it was 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) at 2:00 pm," he recalled, speaking at a campsite set up by the protesters on a patch of grass on the Paseo del Prado, one of Madrid's main boulevards before the march.
"I did not think I would make it, but I did," the 33-year-old added.
Spain's unemployment rate has soared to just over 21 percent, the highest level in Europe, since the collapse of a labour-intensive property bubble in 2008.
And like Gallego, many of those who marched across Spain have stuggled to find a permanent job.
They stopped in towns and villages along the way, holding meetings at each stop to spread their message of outrage at unemployment, welfare cuts and corruption.
Jose, a 19-year-old audiovisual arts student who walked some 350 kilometres from the Mediterranean port of Valencia, said the marchers were well received along the route, with locals offering them food and places to stay.
"At first we did not know what was going to happen," he said as he stood among the tents set up on the Paseo del Prado.
"In the second town we saw it was going to be great when the priest arrived with a huge tray of food.”
"People wanted to feel part of the movement, they would contribute everything they had. It went much better than we thought it would be."
Polls show two-thirds of Spaniards sympathise with the indignants.
Their movement emerged after protesters set up camp in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square in mid-May to protest the misery the economic crisis has inflicted on ordinary people.
The vast ramshackle protest camp set in the square was dismantled on June 12 but the group has since mounted a series of protests, rallying an estimated 200,000 people across Spain on June 19.
They have also blocked bailiffs from expelling people from their homes because they cannot pay their mortgages and hold regular outdoor meetings at neighbourhoods across the country to discuss what other steps can be taken.
"We meet every Saturday, we organise different actions, like exchanging school textbooks for children who can't afford them, against foreclosures, against the privatisation of the water company," said Lola Marina, a 55-year-old unemployed grandmother, at the start of the march.
Ruben Rodenas Mora walked some 250 kilometres to reach Madrid from Albacete.
He said he was "tired of hearing people say how they could not make ends meet, how unfair life is, of seeing what goes on television and not doing anything”.
"It was time to take to the streets, turn off the TV and protest," the 26-year-old added.
"Those up on top are much stronger but with each passing day those on the bottom have a little bit more strength to break the system."