Police Disperse Anti-Crisis Protesters at Madrid City Hall
MADRID — Scuffles erupted between police and demonstrators outside Madrid's city hall Saturday as the rightist mayor began a new term in office, in the latest of a wave of protests against the country' economic crisis and soaring unemployment.
"Get the corrupt out of the city hall," shouted hundreds of demonstrators who gathered outside a vast police cordon set up around the 17th century Casa de la Villa in the city's historic centre where Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon was sworn into office.
Others cried "Gallardon thief," "We won't pay for this crisis," and "Ali Baba's Cave," as they blocked streets, kept at a distance by helmeted riot police.
"Gallardon you do not represent us," read one huge banner.
Gallardon, a member of the conservative opposition Popular Party, retained control of Madrid in municipal elections on May 22 which saw a rout for the country's governing Socialists.
Scuffles broke out when police tried to remove some protesters sitting outside the exit to the garage to clear a passage for official cars leaving the building after the ceremony.
Tinted windows firmly closed, the vehicles were greeted with deafening shouts of "Thieves out", "Shame", jeers, whistles and boos as they drove past.
Some protesters suffered scratches and bruises as police pushed or dragged them away from the exit.
"People were sitting peacefully to prevent them (the officials in the city hall) from leaving, and police moved in," said Ramon Fernandez, 31.
"They did not use batons, but began to grab people who suffered kicks," said the computer programmer who showed the scratches on his arms and body in the clash.
He said protesters offered "no resistance", and there were "quite a few" people slightly injured.
Another protester, Pablo Ascasibar, 31, said "we were sitting in the street and the police came in to remove us, with verbal violence and with physical violence by dragging us, kicking us and kneeing us."
Demonstrators also carried a black "coffin" through the streets preceded by two men dressed as priests and a drummer beating out a funereal beat. The sign on the coffin read "We don't want a country for rich people".
Dozens of police vehicles and riot police closed off a huge section of the city centre.
"How much protection does Gallardon need?" chanted the crowd.
The manager of one local tourist gift shop, Juan Pozos, estimated he lost between 700 and 800 euros worth of business due to the security.
"I'm not making any sales, and I will not be compensated," he complained.
Demonstrations also took place Saturday in other towns and cities where mayors were sworn into office, notably Valencia, Palma de Majorca, Burgos, Alicante, Leon, Vitoria and Zaragoza.
Protests over the economic crisis began in Madrid on May 15 and fanned out to city squares nationwide as word spread by Twitter and Facebook among demonstrators also known as "M-15", "Spanish Revolution" and "Real Democracy Now".
Protesters installed in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square for the past month are scheduled on Sunday to dismantle their ramshackle encampment, which has become a symbol of the anti-establishment movement.
The Spanish economy slumped into recession during the second half of 2008 as the global financial meltdown compounded the collapse of the once-booming property market. It emerged with meagre growth in early 2010.
The crisis sent the unemployment rate soaring to more than 21 percent in the first quarter of 2011, the highest in the industrialised world. Among young people it is over 40 percent.