Spain's 'Indignants' mark protest anniversary

Protesters are angry at high levels of youth unemployment

Tens of thousands of people have protested in a number of Spanish cities to mark the first anniversary of the "Indignants" movement.

The protesters had pledged to occupy Madrid's Puerta del Sol square.

But police moved in to disperse them after they ignored a midnight deadline to leave the square.

The movement was formed out of anger at the impact of Spain's deepest economic crisis in decades. Unemployment hit a record high in April.

The centre-right government has recently announced fresh austerity measures.

The turnout in Madrid was huge and would certainly have met organisers' expectations, says Guy Hedgecoe, reporting for the BBC from Madrid.

Spanish authorities had said they wanted the protesters to disperse by midnight local time (22:00 GMT) but many ignored the time limit.

At the scene

There was a festive atmosphere around Madrid as protesters marched from different neighbourhoods into the centre of the city. They were mainly young people but pensioners and families also took part, converging in Puerta del Sol, Madrid's best known square.

There was singing and chanting and, on a hot spring day, lots of playful costumes. But what they are protesting against is very serious. "Los indignados", or the "outraged", feel the economic crisis has been woefully mismanaged. In the past they have been criticised for failing to offer concrete proposals. But they believe Spain's current economic woes give them renewed momentum.

Unemployment is more than 24%, the economy has fallen back into recession and this week the government nationalised the country's fourth largest bank. "Los indignados" are deeply opposed to the conservative government's austerity programme, but they are also going to spend the coming days debating how to make Spain's economic and political leaders more accountable.

Police vans eventually moved in and appeared to have cleared protesters from the square.

The atmosphere in other parts of the city centre was reported to be tense on Sunday morning but there were no reports of violence.

"Today's goal is to recover the public spaces," protester Sofia Ruiz earlier told Reuters.

"It is also a way to celebrate that we have been existing for one year and that we are going to be there until the system changes or we are listened to and they take into account our claims."

Last year the Indignants established a protest camp in Puerta del Sol, but the authorities had vowed they would prevent any protesters from staying overnight in the square.

There were some 2,000 riot police on duty.

At least 45,000 people also took to the streets in Barcelona, police said, although organisers put the attendance in the hundreds of thousands.

Barcelona protester Jose Helmandez told the BBC he could not find a job in his field despite being qualified as a genetics and molecular biology doctor.

"A lot of people are leaving the country to find work, even if they end up not doing something they are qualified to do," he said.

"I was living in France but returned to Spain almost two years ago, and all I can find are short-term jobs."

Europe-wide protests

Some have criticised the movement for having little impact on Spanish politics over the past year.

Protesters in Puerta del Sol square, Madrid, 12 May 2012 Authorities had said they would not allow protesters to stay in Puerta del Sol square overnight

The government of conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, elected last November, has introduced budget cuts and tax rises.

Mr Rajoy has also announced deregulation of the labour market, angering Spanish unions.

Similar protests took place in other cities in Spain and across the world as part of a global day of action, some of them staged by the Occupy movement:

  • In London, hundreds of protesters gathered outside St Paul's Cathedral, where a protest camp was removed in February, and a A number of people were arrested
  • Smaller protests, numbering in the hundreds, have taken place in the Portuguese capital Lisbon and in Germany's financial centre, Frankfurt
  • About 1,000 marchers converged in Tel Aviv to protest about the cost of living, with marches also reported in other Israeli cities

Meanwhile, in the latest attack on symbols of Italy's austerity policies, a tax office has been firebombed in the city of Livorno. No-one was hurt.

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