Protesters flood Spanish cities in spite of curfew
Spain's prime minister defended harsh austerity measures as tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded into plazas across the crisis-hit nation over the weekend, defying a police crackdown on public protest.
Conservative leader Mariano Rajoy, who took office in December, insisted that the deeply unpopular cuts in public spending were "necessary" given Spain's dire economic situation where one in four Spaniards are unemployed.
"We are doing what is needed and that means taking difficult decisions," Mr Rajoy said at a political rally in the Basque country yesterday morning.
His comments will give little reassurance to the estimated 100,000 demonstrators who marched through streets across Spain on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the birth of the 'Indignado movement'.
A core group of protesters was determined to rebuild the makeshift camps that appeared in the squares of cities across Spain last May, most notably in Madrid's Puerta del Sol.
But huge numbers of riot police surrounded the central square to prevent any camp being set up, and a curfew was imposed in the square between midnight and 10am, a move seen as "a return to the dark days of Franco" by some on the street.
After many hours of peaceful protest on Saturday which saw some 30,000 people cram into the Madrid square, including families and young children, the police finally moved in to evict the few hundred remaining at five o'clock yesterday morning.
The interior ministry reported 18 arrests in Madrid alone and at least four injured, including two police officers.
Police also dispersed protesters early yesterday morning from public spaces in other cities across Spain, including Valencia, Zaragoza, Cadiz and Palma de Mallorca.
Protests were called to reconvene yesterday afternoon when another attempt to stay overnight would be launched, organisers said, while insisting the movement was non-violent.
"What we have here is a return to a police state, a right-wing government denying a voice to citizens who don't agree with them," said one protester Francisco (32). The protests are set to continue until tomorrow.
'Los Indignados' of Spain are credited with spawning the 'Occupy' movements but the Spanish movement has lost momentum beleaguered by in-fighting over its aims.
Protesters are, however, united in anger against a series of austerity measures that includes deep cuts in social services, education and health budgets as Spain's government struggles to meet strict budget deficit targets imposed by Brussels.
Spain has slumped into its second recession in four years and its unemployment rate of nearly 25pc is the highest in the eurozone and expected to worsen this year.
On Friday, the government told Spanish banks that they must allocate another €30bn to cover potential losses on toxic property holdings and ordered an independent audit of their debt.
The reforms seemed to meet approval in Brussels. Olli Rehn, Europe's commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, praised the measures yesterday.
"A prompt and profound reform of the banking sector is a cornerstone of Spain's crisis response," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)