MADRID (AFP) – More than 100,000 protesters took to the streets in Spain on Sunday blaming bankers and politicians for causing a financial crisis that forced the country to adopt painful spending cuts.
Demonstrators of all ages linked to a movement called the “indignants” also protested against crippling unemployment and a failure to take on government corruption.
The El Mundo newspaper, quoting police sources, said as many 40,000 protesters flooded streets in Madrid.
In Barcelona, the nation’s second-largest city, police said 50,000 people turned out, while groups of several thousand demonstrators rallied in other cities.
Protesters assembled in several neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Madrid early Sunday, then formed six columns and converged on the city centre.
They tried to gather at parliament but were stopped by police, who had set up barricades and used 12 vans to block several major roads.
When it called for nationwide protests, the “indignants” movement insisted workers and the unemployed needed to make clear that they would not passively accept spending cuts to help ease Spain’s economic crisis.
“The banks and the governments that caused this situation must know that we do not agree with the measures and the budget cuts, that we intend to be heard,” the group said.
In one procession on the main Castellana Avenue that runs through Madrid, thousands marched towards parliament, including young people, pensioners, the unemployed and parents pushing babies in their strollers.
“They call this democracy, but it’s not,” shouted the crowd gathered in the city centre, watched closely by police.
“We are not property in the hands of politicians and bankers,” read a banner written in bold red letters.
One orator speaking through a microphone pledged to organise a general strike.
“We are going to paralyse this country,” he said.
Yolanda Garcia, a 36-year-old woman who said she has to work several low-paying jobs to get by, said that politicians “do nothing” to help people like her.
“I think that the (protest) movement could change things if it continues,” she said.
In Barcelona, protesters moving through two main squares in the city centre blamed the government and powerful business interests for the crisis.
“The street is ours!” they shouted. “We are not going to pay for their crisis.”
Police and media said that in Valencia, Granada, Malaga and roughly 100 other cities and towns, demonstrators voiced outrage over welfare cuts, corruption and a current jobless rate of 21 percent — the highest in the industrialised world.
The protest movement started in Madrid on May 15 and fanned out nationwide as word spread by Twitter and Facebook.
The demonstrations peaked ahead of May 22 local elections, when tens of thousands of people packed into squares in several towns and cities.
The protesters had also set up a camp in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square, which was dismantled on June 12 although the group said that did not signal the end of their movement.
The “indignants” have inspired similar offshoot movements in other European countries, notably Greece, where the government is also trying to implement a strict austerity programme to avoid defaulting on its loans.
The Spanish central bank said last weak the recovery in Spain’s beleaguered economy would likely remain slow, and that unemployment could remain high for the foreseable future.