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Spain Holds Local Elections; Protests Continue

An official checks Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's identification before voting, with his wife Sonsoles Espinosa at left, at a voting center in Madrid, May 22, 2011

Spanish citizens voted Sunday in local and regional elections forecast to produce huge losses for the ruling Socialists, as protesters disgruntled with high unemployment demonstrated nationwide.

Voting early Sunday, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called for a large turnout among Spain's 34 million eligible voters.

Voters are deciding on city councils and other positions in 13 of Spain's 17 regional governments.

The local and regional elections are seen as a test of how much the ruling party's support has crumbled amid soaring unemployment and its handling of the country's financial crisis.

The opposition Popular Party is expected to make major gains ahead of general elections due by next March which could see the party return to power.

Spain's unemployment rate stands at 21.3 percent, the highest in the European Union. The jobless rate for people between the ages of 18 and 25 is even higher, at 45 percent.

Thousands of Spaniards have defied a government ban on demonstrations that took effect Saturday and continued protesting unemployment and the weak economy.

So far, police have not intervened to stop the nationwide demonstrations.

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