Mass protests have flared up across Spain during the past week over rampant youth unemployment and austerity measures imposed because of the economic crisis. On Friday, though, the government moved to put the lid on what has become the largest protest movement in Europe at the moment. Spain's Central Electoral Board has banned protests planned for this weekend in the run-up to Sunday's elections.
The authority fears demonstrations could disrupt regional and communal elections being held on Sunday or influence voters, a statement issued early Friday morning said. In this instance, officials argued, the right to vote takes precedence over freedom of assembly.
Over night, thousands of mostly young protesters converged again on Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square, where they protested against the ban on demonstrations this weekend with a chorus of whistles. "They call it democracy, but it isn't one," the protesters chanted. Several hundred protesters have been camped out on the square in a tent city this week. Despite the tense atmosphere, the protests have so far remained peaceful.
A Protest Movement Develops Overnight
The protesters have occupied the square for days now, with some comparing the gatherings to those that took place on Cairo's Tahrir Square earlier this year, and demonstrations also continued for the fifth day in a row on Thursday in Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela. Spaniards living abroad have also set up protest camps outside the country's embassies in Berlin, Paris, London and Amsterdam. Most of the events have been organized online. After organizing demonstrations in around 50 cities last Sunday, the Real Democracy Now movement became a household name virtually overnight.
The movement symbolizes the frustration of the so-called "Lost Generation" in Spain, where unemployment among under-25 year olds is 45 percent and the overall unemployment rate is 21 percent, the highest in the European Union. Many feel the situation has been exacerbated by the austerity measures implemented by the country to reduce the national deficit and prevent a Greece-style EU and International Monetary Fund bailout.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Friday that the protests were "understandable," expressing his sympathies for the protesters. "We have to listen and be sensitive, because there are reasons why they are expressing their unhappiness and their criticism," the prime minister said one day earlier, admonishing politicians to listen to the protesters' message. At the same time, he said that Spain's painful austerity measures and reforms must continue. The prime minister called on members of the Socialist party participating in the protest movement to cast ballots in Sunday's elections, saying that only those who cast votes can actually change things.
The Central Electoral Board that imposed the ban on protests is comprised of justices from the country's highest court as well as university professors in law, politics and social sciences. Spanish radio has reported that the authority only had a one-vote majority for the ban.
dsl -- with wires
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