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Conservatives make some key wins in Spanish elections

By Al Goodman, CNN
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Spain's May 15th movement presses on
  • Conservatives have 37% of vote to Socialists' 27% with 84% votes counted
  • 8,000 local mayoral seats and 13 regional government presidencies are up for election
  • Thousands have set up tent camps and protested Spain's economic situation
  • Spain has a 21% unemployment rate

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Madrid (CNN) -- Spain's opposition conservatives were heading to victory Sunday over the ruling Socialists in local and regional elections, with 84% of the vote counted, according to official results.

The opposition Popular Party had 37% of the vote to the Socialists' 27%.

The Socialists lost two major posts to conservatives: mayor of Seville and presidency of the Castilla La Mancha region --- where the famed Don Quijote novel was set. This will be the first time in 30 years Socialists will not be at the helm of the La Mancha region.

Exit polls indicated the Socialists could also lose the prized Barcelona mayor's post after 32 years to the moderate Catalan nationalist party, Convergence and Union.

Polls predict the ruling Socialist Party will suffer deep losses to the conservatives in voting for all 8,000 Spanish city and town mayors and for presidents of 13 out of the 17 regional governments. The outcome is viewed as a bellwether for national elections, due no later than March 2012.

Spanish court approves protest ban
It's just before elections when the Spanish politicians usually hear the voice of the people.
--Protest spokesman Juan Lopez
  • Spain

The elections came after a campaign overshadowed by week-long protests in Madrid and other cities over the nation's deep economic crisis.

Despite a court-approved ban on demonstrations the day before the elections, the demonstrations had continued on Saturday.

The Socialist government did not order the police to disband the peaceful demonstrations on Saturday, despite the electoral board's ban that said the day prior to balloting should be a day of reflection, without politicking.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba had said earlier that police would not create even more problems than already existed in the streets.

Rubalcaba voted early on Sunday, shortly after polls opened at 9 a.m. Rubalcaba is widely expected to seek the nomination of the Socialist Party as candidate for prime minister in the next general elections.

The current prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, announced last month he would not seek a third term.

His government has been squeezed by Spain's 21% unemployment rate, the highest in Western Europe, and a financial crisis that prompted unpopular austerity measures.

That's what helped start a wave of protests May 15, when Spaniards using social media sites like Facebook convened demonstrations that attracted large crowds.

The protests against the political and financial establishment continued and gained force throughout last week, as demonstrators set up encampments in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol plaza and at emblematic plazas in Barcelona and many other Spanish cities.

Overall, reports indicated that tens of thousands took to the streets across the nation in the past week, and news media attention on the protests quickly overshadowed the campaign.

Protesters decided Sunday to stay at least another week in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol plaza, said Juan Lopez, a protest spokesman and internet technology manager who is currently unemployed.

"The assembly has just approved that," Lopez told CNN by phone. The protesters have divided themselves into decision-making bodies they call assemblies, which debate and then vote on issues.

Lopez said the decision applies only to the protest in Madrid, which has been the largest in Spain. Barcelona and other cities would make their own decision.

"We are trying to coordinate," he said, but added that, so far, nationwide collaboration is not in place.

The sprawling tent city in Madrid's plaza includes 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, senior citizens and many people who have jobs and said they're concerned about the nation's future. Spain has a 42% jobless rate for people ages 16 to 24.

A total of 34 million Spaniards were eligible to vote on Sunday, including 500,000 foreigners, mainly from other European Union nations, who have established residency in Spain.

About 100,000 police officers were on duty to maintain safety.