Spaniards keep up anniversary rally against crisis

Reuters News
Posted: May 14, 2012 6:08 PM
Spaniards keep up anniversary rally against crisis

MADRID (Reuters) - Spaniards kept up protests against politicians' handling of the economic crisis in Madrid's Puerta del Sol on Sunday after police evicted people from the central square in the pre-dawn hours and made 18 arrests.

As civic activists lamented Spain's worsening economy, authorities sought on the first anniversary of the grassroots "Indignados" movement to pre-empt a repeat of last year's encampment in the square that went on for a month.

Police arrested 18 people in Puerta del Sol overnight for resisting an order to leave. Protesters rallied anew in the square during the day calling for the release of the 18, chanting: "We're not all here!"

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Spaniards took to the streets in 80 cities across the country, waving banners and chanting against the bankers and politicians they blame for Spain's worst crisis in decades.

The Indignados caught global attention last May and inspired other popular movements against austerity policies that are aimed at cutting debt and reassuring investors but hit the living standards of all except wealthy elites, critics say.

But since then, Spanish unemployment has soared to 24 percent, the economy has relapsed into recession, a bank has been nationalized and harsh spending cuts have hit public health and education.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the conservative People's Party defended his government's austerity measures at a political rally on Sunday, saying they were necessary to lift the country out of its economic malaise.

"We'll get out of this (crisis) if the government doesn't tire of making reforms, and the government is not going to tire," Rajoy said.

Movements like the Indignados have received support from all sections of Spanish society - from youth to the elderly, and while critics say they have failed to make an impact politically, protesters are keen to revive their visibility.

"On one hand the activists are taking a critical stance on the worsening crisis ... and on the other hand they're showing that they're still there; they haven't disappeared," said Jesus Sanz, sociologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Protesters have vowed four days of rallies in the run-up to May 15, the day their month-long encampment started last year. On Monday, activists planned to rally outside the central Madrid offices of Bankia, which was nationalized last week.

(Reporting By Tracy Rucinski, Emma Pinedo and Silvio Castellanos; Editing by Mark Heinrich)