|Demonstrators have camped in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square and in cities around the country since the weekend [AFP]
Several thousand protesters, angry over Spain's economic crisis and soaring jobless rate, have defied a ban by Madrid authorities and pressed with demonstrations ahead of weekend local elections.
Demonstrators have camped in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square and in cities around the country since the weekend, responding to calls on online social networks and by the Real Democracy protest organisation.
Some have vowed to stay until the regional and municipal elections on Sunday.
If police try to "remove us we will sit down, everything will be peaceful, and if we are eventually dispersed we will come back tomorrow." A spokesman for the organisers, Juan Rubio, said.
However, electoral authorities in the Madrid region denied an official request by organisers to hold a rally in the Puerta del Sol from 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Wednesday.
The request was not submitted with 24 hours' notice as required by law, and the demonstration "could affect the electoral campaign and the freedom of citizens with the right to vote," a spokeswoman for the election authority in the region said.
About 15 police vehicles took up positions in and around the square on Wednesday evening but police took no action and the police presence diminished later.
By midnight, most of the protesters were starting to disperse as rain fell.
Hundreds also defied bans in the southern cities of Granada and Seville, Spanish media said. Protests have been held in Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza and Palma de Majorca.
Spain's jobless rate hit 21.19 per cent in the first quarter of this year, the highest in the industrialised world. For the young, the situation is more desperate: 44.6 per cent unemployment for under-25s in February.
Carrying placards reading "Make the guilty pay for the crisis" and chanting "They call this democracy but it is not", the protesters hope to be heard in Sunday's elections.
Mostly peaceful, the protests began on May 15, lamenting Spain's economic crisis, politicians in general, and corruption.
"This is a movement that is under construction, we are still gathering ideas, organising gatherings for social change," said Rubio.
The protests seem to have caught political parties by surprise.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's ruling Socialist Party was "alarmed" by the protesters, fearing them to be disaffected left-wing supporters who would abandon the party at the ballot box, the leading daily El Pais said.
Weekend polls forecast devastating losses for the Socialists as voters punish them for the government's handling of the economic crisis, including painful austerity measures.
Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative Popular Party, which stands to make huge gains in the elections, said he could understand the protesters' motives.
The youth unemployment rate was "terrible" and unacceptable in a country like Spain, he said.
Polls published in the centre-left El Pais and the conservative El Mundo predicted broad losses for the Socialists including in strongholds such as Barcelona, Seville and the Castilla-La Mancha region. The Socialist Party is "on the edge of a catastrophe," El Mundo predicted.