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Thousand Defy Protest Ban to Rally Ahead of Spanish Elections

Demonstrators prepare banners at the town hall square in Valencia, Spain, May 21, 2011. Spaniards take their protests over sky high unemployment and austerity into a seventh day across the country.

Tens of thousands of Spaniards defied a protest ban Saturday and crowded town squares across the nation to demonstrate against high unemployment ahead of local elections on Sunday.

Thousands of demonstrators swarm Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square, defying a protest ban by the country's electoral commission. Saturday is a so-called "Day of Reflection," when political campaigning - and demonstrations - are banned.

But demonstrators have been here for seven days, protesting high unemployment and perceived government corruption, ahead of local elections on Sunday.

A man shouts into a megaphone, "They don't represent us. We are here to change society!"

Protester Raquel Almendros explains why she is here. "We do not have jobs, there's a lot of unemployment, we're having social cuts. The political people do not represent the good for the most of the people," she said.

Police walk past but do not intervene. They are cheered by the crowd, in scenes hauntingly similar to anti-government protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square during Egypt's revolution in February.

Demonstrator Juan Lopez says he suspects that despite the protest ban, the government really thinks public demonstrations like this one are appropriate. "They haven't tried any action, because they know, as we do, that we are legal," said Lozez.

Spain's ruling Socialist Party is widely expected to suffer losses in Sundays' elections.