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Spain's high court OKs ban on protests, even as dissatisfaction grows

By Al Goodman, CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
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Spanish court approves protest ban
  • NEW: Spain's supreme court rejects an appeal to reverse a ban on protests Saturday
  • The ban was originally ordered by Spain's electoral board
  • Local and regional elections are to be held Sunday
  • Demonstrators are reacting to 21% unemployment and other concerns
  • Spain

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Madrid (CNN) -- Spain's supreme court on Friday rejected an appeal to overturn the electoral board's order banning demonstrations on Saturday, a spokesman for the court told CNN, confirming Spanish media reports.

The decision comes as protests against Spain's economic crisis continued for a sixth day on Friday in many cities, just two days ahead of local and regional elections that are scheduled across the Iberian nation. The ruling means no such protests can legally occur on Saturday.

This follows a ruling from late Thursday, when Spain's electoral board said that the demonstrations, organized largely via social media networks, would be banned on Saturday. That day is supposed to be a "day of reflection" for voters -- the idea being that there should be no campaigning immediately preceding Sunday's balloting -- the board said.

Now the government of the ruling Socialist Party must decide whether the police should keep a safe distance, as they did last Wednesday when a demonstration was banned but went ahead anyway, or if they will crack down. Socialist politicians are widely expected to suffer deep losses to the conservatives, according to recent polls.

"What we are going to do is comply with the law," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told reporters Friday.

Yet Perez, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, added that the police would not be there to create even more problems than already exist in the streets.

Economist Fernando Fernandez of the IE Business School predicted that police late Friday would try to peacefully seal off Puerta del Sol plaza to prevent more demonstrators from arriving, and let those in the plaza eventually leave.

"The government does not want to have any sort of violence taking place the day prior to the elections. This would have a very large political cost and electoral cost," Fernandez told CNN.

"People want to participate. This is a fiesta of democracy," Sofia de Roa, a spokeswoman for the protesters, told CNN.

The largest crowds nationwide Friday were in Madrid, where thousands of mostly young demonstrators returned to the central Puerta del Sol plaza.

Demonstrators are protesting Spain's 21% unemployment rate, the highest in the euro zone, and a record 4.9 million people who are out of work. The jobless rate for youth -- those between ages 15 and 24 -- is 42%.

Protesters say that many temporary labor contracts offer few or no job benefits. In addition, some are protesting against the political and financial establishment that they say is to blame.

The protests appear to have gained momentum in the closing days of the campaign. They have captured considerable news media coverage, and all major parties have acknowledged them.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in an interview with SER radio on Friday that voters ultimately will decide whether and how much change will be made.

On Sunday, voters in Spain's 8,000 cities and towns will elect mayors, along with 13 out of 17 regional presidents and parliaments. The results are expected to be a bellwether for national elections, which must happen no later than March 2012.

De Roa, a journalist who works for a university communications office, said protester assemblies, their ad hoc decision-making bodies, have called for a demonstration on Saturday night despite the no-campaigning tradition on the eve of a Spanish election.

She said the protests also are expected to continue nightly, even after the elections.

"We're not leaving until there's a change," she said, standing amid thousands of protesters in Madrid's emblematic central square. "Until a politician commits to implementing the proposals here."

Beatriz Elosegui, a government worker, said Thursday she had been to several protests since they started on Sunday. Her husband, an advertising executive, is out of work and her son is about to finish his training to become an electrician but has few job prospects, she said.

Two young men who appeared to be the only ones wearing suits and ties in the crowd said they showed up Thursday for the first time. Both said they work as accountants, and one, Andres Maldonado, complained of tight credit that is squeezing homeowners and small businesses. He said government efforts to inject liquidity into the financial system are not working.

Besides Madrid, there were also protests in Barcelona, Valencia and other cities in Spain. Up to a few hundred protesters have camped out in central squares each night, but the main protests are in the evening.

Some in the crowd said they would vote on Sunday, including de Roa. But she said she would change her vote from the Communist-led United Left to an even more leftist party, which she hadn't chosen yet. Elosegui said she would vote for the Humanist Party.