- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2011

MADRID — Hundreds of Spaniards huddled in a makeshift protest camp in the heart of Madrid for a fourth straight day Thursday, denouncing the country’s two main political parties as selfish and useless in dealing with the country’s economic crisis.

The demonstrations in the capital and other Spanish cities are adding anger to what has been a humdrum campaign for local and municipal elections this weekend.

Hundreds of protesters who spent the night at the camp in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza shook rainwater from plastic sheeting that served as a roof; held small assemblies with bullhorns; handed out donated, free food such as fruit and sweet rolls; and prepared for another rally in the evening. Some dozed on grungy couches and chairs, or in small camping tents.

Spain only now is recovering, albeit very slowly, from nearly two years of recession, and its jobless rate has soared to a eurozone high of 21.3 percent. Prospects for significant economic growth soon are slim.

Miguel Arrastia, 26, said protesters are angry that spending cuts and other austerity measures imposed to deal with Spain’s deficit and other problems are making people suffer even more. He is an unemployed surveyor.

“This protest is a spontaneous thing, and I think it is happening at the right time because it is right before the elections and we are showing that no party is capable of dealing with this crisis,” he said.

Mr. Arrastia said that recent pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East served as an inspiration — a reminder of what people working together can achieve.

“They were an influence because they gave us strength. Those people were able to stand up to dictators, so why cannot we” take on a stagnant political system at home, Mr. Arrastia said.

The demonstrators in Spain have a range of complaints but are united behind the slogan of “Genuine Democracy Now.”

Crowds that have packed Puerta del Sol this week have pledged to stay there until after the elections this weekend.

The Madrid electoral board banned the demonstration in the square Wednesday, saying it could influence the elections Sunday. But the ruling appeared to have the opposite effect and — spurred on by social media messages — thousands of people of all ages swarmed into the square, packing it by midnight.

Some 500 riot police stood guard but did not intervene.

Similar overnight protests, albeit smaller in size, have taken place in several cities, including Barcelona and Seville, in recent days.

The national electoral board was to decide later Thursday whether the demonstrations are legal in the run-up to voting day.

The governing Socialist party of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is tipped to suffer a resounding defeat in the elections. In turn, the leading conservative opposition Popular Party is expected to make huge gains.

General elections are not scheduled until 2012.

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