Madrid riots: the aftermath
James Taylor reports from Madrid on the unease in the city following the recent riots in protest against proposed austerity measures.
by James Taylor
Wednesday 26th September 2012, 18:26 BST
Madrid was the latest European city to become embroiled in heated public riots, as Tuesday’s protests against the recent austerity cuts and tax hikes became violent. The riots originally broke out in response to protesters' attempts to tear down barriers blocking access to Spain’s Parliament. Roads were closed, as were underground stations, in a bid to stop rioters from different areas congregating. The protests left 64 injured; 27 of these were police officers. One man remains in a serious condition, although he is known to have suffered from a previous brain condition.
Having been in Madrid for the last week, I can say that the change in atmosphere has been tangible. The usual placidity typical of Spanish culture has been replaced by a sense of anxiety. My hotel room neighbours the Plaza del Sol, where rioters congregated last night. From my room I could hear the hum of an incensed crowd, and the whirring of a helicopter circling the plaza overhead.
Over half of Spain’s riot police force were deployed to maintain order during the riots, armed with batons and rubber bullets similar to those used during the 2011 London riots. The Spanish government has congratulated the actions of the police, saying that they acted “magnificently” and “have fulfilled their duty”. There were 35 arrests made in total and the people involved will be charged with crimes against the nation. It is believed that they will face a National Audience on Thursday morning. In response, a group of trade unionists have occupied a branch of Deutsche Bank in the city of Seville, demanding that those arrested on Tuesday be freed.
In the Plaza de Neptuno, where the riots were at their most serious, 265 kilos of rubbish have been collected, including stones, bottles and screws. According to Cristina Cifuentes, the delegate for the Madrid government, “sticks, hole punches and slingshots” have been also been found. There is further evidence that the rioters used bin lids as shields against the bullets.
The hotels and cafes which litter the streets of central Madrid now reflect the mood of the city; when I arrived back at my hotel at 6:00pm all the outdoor chairs and tables, normally full of people, had been taken indoors. The cafe was shut, but no one seemed disappointed; there is a real sense that people do not want to be wandering the streets for longer than necessary. As I entered the foyer I was met at reception by two armed police officers. They did not linger as, within moments of my arrival, they were sprinting past me with a frantic look on their faces.
There are concerns that the riots will continue this evening, and Alfredo Pérez Rubacaba, the leader of Spain’s socialist party, has expressed fears that the issue is “out of the Government’s hands”. He accused the country’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, of estranging Spanish society from politics. The riots, like those seen in London last year, were organized through social media websites, with protesters expressing a desire to take back democracy, which they say has been “kidnapped”.
Even now that the riots are over the Plaza del Sol, usually a hub of madrileño hustle and bustle, is eerily quiet and tense. Normally a pedestrian square, the plaza is uncomfortably calm, as police cars drive slowly through it, ushering people out of their way with their horns. The exact spot where only a few days ago I had taken photos of the living statues and listened to traditional live Spanish music is now heavily policed. It certainly seems that Spain already has too much on its plate to be facing another internal crisis. This sense of urgency was demonstrated by the clear aggression with which the police treated rioters as they sought to seeking to quell the uprising before it escalates.