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Spaniards Defy Pre-Election Ban on Political Activity


Demonstrators raise their arms just after midnight as they fill up Madrid's Puerta del Sol, spilling into sidestreets, early May 21, 2011

Demonstrators raise their arms just after midnight as they fill up Madrid's Puerta del Sol, spilling into sidestreets, early May 21, 2011

Thousands of Spaniards are ignoring a ban on political activity ahead of elections this Sunday and are packing city centers nationwide in a protest against the country's weak economy and high unemployment.

As the ban went into effect early Saturday, demonstrators in Madrid became silent briefly but vowed to continue their protest, which started May 15. Saturday is by law a "day of reflection," meaning political activity is barred. Friday was the last day for candidates to campaign.

Spain's ruling Socialist Party is widely expected to suffer big losses at the polls. The government is presiding over an economy struggling to overcome a recession and create jobs. Spain's unemployment rate stands at 21.3 percent, the highest level in the European Union. The jobless rate for people between the ages of 18 and 25 is even higher, at 45 percent.

The opposition Popular Party is expected to make major gains in the local and regional elections, which could lead to its return to power in general elections due by next March.

The mostly peaceful demonstrations have been organized largely through social media such as Twitter by young protesters who say they were inspired by the protests in Egypt and Tunisia. Those demonstrations brought down the governments in both countries.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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