This Europe: Squatters solve eviction problem: sleep on it

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A flourishing arts centre in a run-down part of Madrid, hailed as Europe's most active squat, has organised a massive sleep-in to avoid the threat of eviction today.

A flourishing arts centre in a run-down part of Madrid, hailed as Europe's most active squat, has organised a massive sleep-in to avoid the threat of eviction today.

Eviction would mark the end of a remarkable self-management operation that has organised huge international conferences and earned the admiration of writers, actors and academics.

Hundreds of young people founded Laboratorio 3 in February last year after taking over an abandoned print shop. Veterans of Madrid's highly developed squatters' movement re-wired and re-plumbed the building to local authority specifications and threw it open for artistic activities. As a group of young men and women grasped mops and buckets to prepare the three-storey building for last night's expected invasion, they were hopeful they could achieve a stay of execution, even a reprieve.

"We've taken the decision not to obey the eviction order because it's come before the result of our appeal to stay, which we expect in a couple of months and we think we could win," said Roxu, 28, who organises the project's computer operations and website. "This is a poor area. People meet here to discuss local problems and we try to resolve them.

"The building was empty for 16 years before we took it over, and now suddenly the owners want to demolish it to build luxury flats," he said.

The eviction order hits the Laboratorio 3 at the peak of its activities – Madrid university holds postgraduate sociology courses there, a local bank collaborated in a recent conference on intellectual property rights attended by experts from Italy, France and Brazil and during one weekend, 600 computer hackers assembled there.

Last night the alternative theatre group Animalario, whose director, Andrés Lima, honed his craft at the Royal Court in London, were to give a guest performance of their hit play Ana y Alejandro. A cruel satire on last year's opulent wedding of the daughter of Spain's Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, the play has taken Madrid by storm. "Hundreds of people come here every day," said Elena, 32, another veteran squatter. "Local community associations meet here. There's tap dance, tango, boxing, theatre, book launches, concerts. We've even set up a cinema."

The walls in the cafeteria are adorned with anti-war posters and cleaning rotas. Upstairs, a young man was juggling in front of a mirror while his dog weaved to and fro.

"We hope the authorities might buy the building from the owners and let us stay. Everything depends on the social pressure we can mobilise. And if we are thrown out we'll just have to occupy somewhere else," said Roxu.

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