Spanish "indignants" spark wave of European protests

MADRID/ATHENS Mon May 30, 2011 2:37pm BST

Protesters hold banners and shout slogans in Seville May 29, 2011, in support of demonstrators gathered at Barcelona's Plaza Catalunya. REUTERS/Javier Diaz

Protesters hold banners and shout slogans in Seville May 29, 2011, in support of demonstrators gathered at Barcelona's Plaza Catalunya.

Credit: Reuters/Javier Diaz

MADRID/ATHENS (Reuters) - Spaniards protesting over the handling of the country's economic crisis vowed to keep their tents in central city squares this week, as a wave of similar protests spread to other major European cities.

Hundreds of people both young and old voted late on Sunday to keep a two-week-old protest encampment in Madrid's main Puerta del Sol square going until Thursday at least, a move echoed in Spain's second largest city Barcelona.

Dubbed "los indignados" (the indignant), tens of thousands of demonstrators packed squares across Spain in a wave of outrage over high unemployment and government austerity measures in the run-up to local and regional elections on May 22.

The elections dealt a crushing defeat to Spain's ruling Socialists, who have had to balance voter anger over national belt tightening and investor demands for strict measures to keep the public deficit in check.

The "Real Democracy Now" movement, also coined the "Spanish Revolution," and has inspired similar demonstrations across Europe.

In Greece, protests have drawn about 24,000 people to Athens' central Syntagma square, and about 1,500 in the Northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, according to usually conservative police estimates.

On Monday around 30 tents were laid out in Athens' central square, as part of a daily gathering that kicked off last Wednesday and which is seen less politically motivated than traditional protest rallies called on by labour unions.

"Finally, it was time we woke up from the lethargy. We feel the need to step forward, to state our disappointment, our disgust, our anger and end any kind of tolerance against all those who bear the responsibility," a movement called "The Indignant Citizens" wrote on a blog.

PARIS INDIGNANT

In Paris riot police cleared out the Place de la Bastille on Sunday evening after hundreds of protestors gathered on the steps of a popular opera house there, claiming solidarity with similar grass-roots movements in Spain and Greece.

The crowd, seemingly made up of protestors in their mid-twenties, banged on drums, sat in the evening sunshine and brandished signs that read "Real democracy now," "Wake up, Paris" and "Get Indignant!"

Protestors estimated the turnout at over 1,000 and cited several arrests as well as some injured. Police said around 500 people had shown up.

"We started these spontaneous gatherings around 10 days ago and they are growing," said one protestor, who asked not to be named. "At first we were just a few and now hundreds are showing up every day, with big spikes on the weekend.

The protestor, a student who said he did not want to be identified as a spokesperson or organiser, said similar gatherings had taken place in 31 French cities.

A pan-European "major day of protest" was set for June 19, the protestor said, adding that his group -- the French chapter of the Spanish "Acampada" movement -- had yet to formulate any precise demands.

(Additional reporting by Nicholas Vinocur in Paris; editing by Philippa Fletcher)