Spain’s “indignants” are demonstrating in cities and towns nationwide to decry economic injustice and mark the first birthday of the grassroots movement which inspired “Occupy” protests in the US and around the world.
Tens of thousands of people rallied on Saturday to mark the beginning of a four-day protest that will end on May 15, the anniversary of the movement’s birth.
Several columns of protesters marched separately on Madrid’s city centre from all directions to converge on central Puerta del Sol. But authorities vowed to stop them camping in the square, which became the cradle of their popular movement.
The “Indignados” (or indignants), a youth-led movement which took to the streets in 2011 in protest against political corruption and economic hardship, say not much has changed in a year.
They feel they have even more to demonstrate against this time around, including a recession, unemployment at 24.4 per cent, and 52 per cent for the young, and more than 30 billion euros ($39 billion) worth of austerity cuts so far this year.
Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from Madrid, said: “The message is still the same as it was last year. They want a more democratic way of doing politics, and they also want to use this as a statement against the government and against the austerity cuts that the government has started to implement this year.”
Gallego said the movement was still focused on working at a grassroots level, which had been one of its key successes.
“It has managed to galvanise communities to really think about what they want, and to think about politically how they can achieve this, all through their neighbourhoods or through their communities throughout the country,” she said.
The conservative government, in power since December, has issued a permit for the Indignados to use Puerta del Sol for a five-hour assembly on Saturday and for 10 hours on each of the following three days.
The permit said they must wrap up their activities in the square on Saturday by 10pm (20:00GMT). But the activists’ plans published online called for a minute of silence at midnight and for a “permanent assembly” to be held in Puerta del Sol during the four-day protest.
Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, the deputy prime minister, said the government would ensure that the hours were respected.
“To stay in the square beyond those hours would be a violation of the law and of the rights of other citizens, and this government will ensure the law is respected,” she told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.
The Indignados have staged overwhelmingly peaceful protests and neighbourhood assemblies since their camp at Puerta del Sol was dismantled on June 12 last year, but interest has tapered off.
“The movement has mutated, it is still there. What has happened is that it is not on the streets, it is online and in social networks,” said Noelia Moreno, a former spokeswoman for the movement. “This is a long-distance race, no one can change an entire political system in one day or one year, it takes time.”
However, critics charge that beyond staging rallies, the movement has had little impact.
Protests across Europe
Meanwhile, anti-austerity demonstrations were held across Europe on Saturday.
In central London, there were scuffles between police and protesters who returned to the scene of their former Occupy camp, which they had been evicted from earlier this year.
The protesters had marched to St Paul’s cathedral protesting against the so-called “one per cent” of financial firms and bankers.
In Portugal’s capital Lisbon, about 200 protesters, mainly unemployed youths, marched through the streets chanting slogans against the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission, which are imposing tough conditions in return for loans needed to keep the country afloat.
In Budapest, about 2,500 supporters of the far right Jobbik party marched in protest of the government’s economic policies.
The policies include a series of tax hikes and other austerity measures that Hungary’s government says are needed to keep the country’s budget deficit under control and support growth.