MADRID – At least 100,000 Spaniards angered by grim economic prospects and the political handling of the international financial crisis turned out for street demonstrations in the country's cities Saturday, marking the one-year anniversary of a movement that inspired similar pressure groups in other countries.
Tens of thousands of protesters in Madrid flooded into the central Puerta del Sol plaza in the evening and aimed to stay for three days. But authorities warned they wouldn't allow anyone to camp out overnight, and up to 2,000 riot police were expected to be on duty.
"I'm here to defend the rights that we're losing and for the young people who have it so tough," 57-year-old middle school teacher Roberto Alonso said. "They're better educated than ever. But they don't have work. They don't have anything. They're behind and they'll stay that way."
At least 20,000 people demonstrated in Barcelona. Marches were also held in Bilbao, Malaga and Seville. Sympathizers held protests in other European cities.
The protests began May 15 last year and drew hundreds of thousands of people calling themselves the Indignant Movement. The demonstrations spread across Spain and Europe as anti-austerity sentiment grew.
Spain is in deep economic difficulty, prompting fears it may need a bailout similar to those helping Greece, Ireland and Portugal. It is in recession, and unemployment stands at almost 25 percent — the highest among the 17 countries using the euro. One in two Spaniards under the age of 25 are out of work.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government has enacted deep spending cuts to reduce the national debt, but many people blame those measures for deepening families' financial plight.
Javier Colilla, a 27-year old university student, said he showed up to protest in Madrid because Spain's economic situation seems like it will spiral into chaos.
"We've had this crisis for four years, but it feels like it's just starting," the fine arts major said.
Colilla lives with his parents, sees zero prospect of getting a menial job after graduation and thinks he may never be able to buy an apartment.
"Right now I'm thinking my best option will be to go to Germany where I can wash dishes, make a little money and learn German," he said. "The prospects of getting a job in Spain are practically inexistent."
He said the government austerity cuts targeting "health and education, but rescuing banks are wrong. They need to find other places to cut."
A year ago, the "indignados" pitched tents and occupied town and city squares across Spain for weeks. Demonstrators clashed with police who eventually moved in to evict them.
"We are here today to celebrate one year since the ... movement started and though we have achieved some things the situation is much worse now, so we need to keep fighting to get things better and that's why we are here today," said 40-year-old activist Ana Pancorvo, who was hooking up with one of four Madrid marches due to converge on the Puerta del Sol.
Antonio Barroso, a London-based Europe analyst for Eurasia Group, said he doubted the Spanish protests would force Rajoy's government to change its policies.
The demonstrations "will probably have no impact on the government's strategy," he said in a written analysis.
Protests also took place Saturday in other European cities, and were planned in South American countries including Brazil and Chile.
In Britain, several hundred anti-capitalist protesters from the Occupy movement marched peacefully through London's financial district, rallying outside the offices of major banking groups such as Merrill Lynch and Santander.
Hundreds also took to the streets in Brussels and Lisbon, Portugal, where the turnout was lower than last year.
The protesters called for governments to enact a host of measures, including a global tax on financial transactions and more democratic international financial bodies.
Monica Lopez in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, and Sylvia Hui in London, contributed to this report.