Spain Bans Jobs Protests Over Election Weekend

Spain's electoral oversight body ruled that jobs protests which young people are staging across the country would be illegal over the coming election weekend, but some demonstrators said they would defy the ban.

Dubbed "the indignant," youth protestors angry about unemployment and austerity measures have demonstrated for five days in the central squares of cities all over Spain, marking a shift after years of patience with an economic downturn.

The electoral board said late on Thursday that laws prohibited any campaigning or propagandising on the so-called day of reflection, the day before voting, and on voting day.

Spaniards elect 8,116 city councils and 13 out of 17 regional governments on Sunday when the ruling Socialist party is expected to take a drubbing over its handling of the economic crisis, before general elections scheduled for March 2012.

"On election day it is prohibited to form groups which may prevent access, in any way, to local voting areas," the electoral board's ruling said.

Spain has the highest jobless rate in the European Union at 21.3%.

The collapse of the housing sector and a dive in consumer spending has hit young job seekers particularly hard, with 45% of 18-25s unemployed.

Puerta Del Sol

El Pais newspaper reported that leaders of the youth movement were calling an assembly to decide whether to accept the ban on their protests this weekend.

At Madrid's Puerta del Sol plaza, centre of the protests, many demonstrators said they would to stay put.

"They can't kick us out. The politicians won't allow it, it'll make them look bad right before the voting," said 32-year-old Virginia Braojos, a logistics technician who had come with three friends to the protests every night this week.

In the Puerta del Sol plaza thousands of mostly young people were gathered after midnight on Friday, chanting, listening to political speeches in small groups, and drinking beer that vendors sold out of backpacks.

The protests have been organised over social media, and grow each evening to thousands, with a few hundred people camping out all night and during the day.

Braojos and her friends were surprised at the momentum the movement has gained.

"We were all acting like sheep, we were under the influence of television and the media, and didn't think for ourselves," said Elena Jimenez, 28, an accountant.

Braojos and Jimenez have jobs, but say they have friends and family who are among Spain's almost 5 million jobless, and are unhappy with their political choices between the Socialists and the centre-right opposition Popular Party.

"We've reached a moment of tension, when any citizen would start waking up," said Cristina Cano, 33, who works in public administration.