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Thousands protest to end wave of evictions in Spain

MADRID -- Thousands of people demonstrated in Spanish cities on Saturday pushing for a new law to end a wave of evictions of homeowners ruined by the economic crisis.

Several thousand marched yelling to the din of drums and horns in central Madrid, waving banners reading “Stop evictions” and yelling “We have no homes!”

Similar protests were called in Barcelona and 50 other Spanish cities, the latest of months of demonstrations driven by anger at Spain's recession and the conservative government, which is imposing austere economic reforms.

Campaigners passed a rare milestone on Tuesday when the Spanish parliament agreed to debate a popular bill of measures to protect poor homeowners, backed by a petition that received more than 1.4 million signatures.

The organization that brought that petition, the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH), called Saturday's nationwide protests to pressure lawmakers to follow through and vote it into law quickly.

“I think it will pass, and it will not be thanks to the politicians but to pressure from citizens in the street,” said one demonstrator in Madrid, Enrique Valdivieso, 27, holding up one end of a banner reading “Government resign.”

PAH says hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted from their homes in the crisis brought on by the collapse of Spain's housing market in 2008.

The recession sparked by that collapse has driven the unemployment rate up to 26 percent, leaving many unable to pay mortgages on houses whose value has fallen.

The PAH's bill proposes to change the law to end evictions and to allow insolvent homeowners to write off their debts by surrendering their home.

Under the current law, a bank can pursue a mortgage holder to pay off the remaining balance of a loan if the value of the seized property isn't sufficient.

Outrage has been fanned by a string of suicides of people reportedly driven to despair by the prospect of eviction, including a retired couple in Mallorca on Tuesday.

“We will not stand by idle waiting for the initiative to come to parliament” to be debated, the PAH said in a statement.

“We call on all political parties to vote in favor of the initiative and proceed with it urgently,” the PAH said. “If they do not, we will hold them responsible for the financial genocide we are suffering.”

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Demonstrators and the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages, holding banners reading “Stop Evictions,” shout slogans to change mortgage laws and halt evictions of those unable to pay mortgages in Madrid, Saturday, Feb. 16. The government agreed to consider changes to the law on mortgages after pressure from opposition parties and a growing public outcry. (AP)

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