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Spaniards protest for 7th day despite 1-day ban on demonstrations

By Al Goodman, CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
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Spain's May 15th movement presses on
  • Thousands turn out over 21% jobless rate
  • Appeals court upheld ban, but police are not deployed
  • Protesters' tent city in Madrid even has day care

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Madrid (CNN) -- Thousands of Spaniards protested on Saturday in defiance of a court-approved ban on demonstrations the day before Sunday's local and municipal elections.

The largest crowds, for a seventh straight day, were in Madrid and Barcelona, but there were also protests in Valencia and smaller cities, protest organizers and Spanish news media reported.

Overall, reports indicated that tens of thousands took to the streets across the nation, which is struggling with a 21% unemployment rate, the highest in the euro zone.

The ruling Socialist Party's candidates are widely expected to suffer deep losses to the conservatives, according to recent polls. The Socialist government did not immediately order the police to move in to disband the demonstrations.

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

Yet Rubalcaba, 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.

Spain's supreme court rejected an appeal late Friday to overturn the electoral board's order banning demonstrations on Saturday. Authorities insist that the day before elections in Spain should be free of political messages and campaigning, for a so-called day of reflection.

Spanish court approves protest ban
We intend to continue, because this is not about Sunday's elections it's about social cutbacks.
--Protest spokeswoman Carmen Sanchez
  • Spain

"Please don't bother us. We are reflecting," read a large placard held by demonstrators in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol plaza on Saturday.

The protests against Spain's political and financial establishment started on May 15.

To sustain them, the protesters have erected a sprawling tent city in the plaza, with a kitchen, a painting workshop to churn out protest placards, a communications office to answer media inquiries and even a day care nursery.

Young people dominated the protests on Saturday but there were also families with young children strolling through the encampment, senior citizens and many people who have jobs but say they're concerned about the nation's future, which has a 42% jobless rate for people ages 15 to 24.

"Everybody here is a volunteer and everything started very small but we got organized very fast and it started growing very fast," said Juan Lopez, a protest spokesman who's an internet technology manager who is currently unemployed.

"You just can see how well one of our best committees, which is the infrastructure committee, work. They made all this in just four days," Lopez said, pointing to the bustling encampment.

Economist Fernando Fernandez of the IE Business School said, "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."

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

The protests gained momentum in the closing days of the campaign and captured considerable news media coverage. 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.

"It's just before elections when the Spanish politicians usually hear the voice of the people," Lopez said. "Now on Monday, we have to see how this develops and what the answer is. The best-case scenario, which is the one we would like, is that they will come down here as citizens to hear us, and to make a new and better Spain, a new and better democracy with all of us are together."

The protesters indicate they will maintain the demonstrations after the elections on Sunday.