Spain: Tempers fray as protests continue


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The Independent Online

For four days running, protesters in Madrid led by a movement called the Indignant Ones marked a year of revolts against cuts in public spending.

Yesterday morning, 300 people gathered along the riverbanks, with musicians and jugglers giving outdoor performances. A public holiday and warm weather helped to give the rally a festive atmosphere. Many demonstrators brought picnics.

But far noisier protests, including the mass banging of saucepans, have been held in the emblematic Puerta del Sol square to celebrate the first anniversary of the indignados, or 15-M (15 May), movement. These protesters were met by 40 police vans blocking the square, and officers set about clearing the area.

Only a handful of demonstrators were arrested yesterday, bringing the total taken into custody to 28. Three people were injured, two of them police allegedly hit by cobblestones flung from a small crowd.

While the Madrid regional government congratulated officers for what it called their faultless behaviour during the rallies so far, there have been repeated complaints from protesters of police brutality.

The question of where the 15-M movement goes from here was due to be raised at what was advertised as a larger protest last night. The group was also due to decide whether to try to "occupy" the square overnight – something the Madrid government has vigorously opposed, albeit with police only taking action to dismantle tents and makeshift information points when most demonstrators had gone home.

In the longer term, the future is equally blurry for the 15-M. Although a majority of Spaniards still support the protesters, media reports suggest that support has slid from 64 per cent to 51 per cent, and internally the 15-M is said to be divided over whether to drop its non-hierarchical structure.

Some protesters argue that 15-M's unpredictable, "formless" organisation is precisely what allowed Saturday's demonstrations, with up to 50,000 protesting in Madrid alone, to gain such momentum. Ramon Adéll, a sociologist, told El Mundo newspaper yesterday: "The 15-M is like a ghost or conscience that appears or disappears."