MADRID — Thousands of Spain's "indignant" protesters reoccupied Madrid's main square a day after riot police swooped down on demonstrators who rallied at the interior ministry to protest its closure.
Police stood by late Friday as the demonstrators entered the Puerta del Sol square, the symbol of their movement against the government's handling of Spain's economic crisis.
"This square belongs to the people. We have much to celebrate today. We won this battle," a spokesman for the movement said through a megaphone to applause and cheers.
The protesters set up a huge banner at the entrance to the square that read "Welcome Dignity" and sat on the ground to hold a "popular assembly" to discuss future protest action.
At least 20 people were injured when riot police late Thursday charged demonstrators who had gathered outside the ministry after trying unsuccessfully to gain access to Puerta del Sol square for the third straight day.
Seven of the injured were policemen. It was the most serious incident since the "indignant" movement began in mid-May in the square against Spain's economic crisis, soaring unemployment and political corruption.
Television images showed several protesters with blood on their faces being surrounded by police or being loaded into ambulances.
The protesters, many wearing orange stickers that read "Very Fragile", chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as they passed the interior ministry, protected by more than 50 riot police who stood side by side outside the entrance.
Oriol, a 33-year-old whose arm was broken during the police charge on Thursday, tried to give a white carnation to the head of the riot police.
The policeman refused to accept the flower but shook hands with the protester after a brief chat.
"I asked them to be more respectful of the protesters. My goal was to show that it does not matter if they hit us, we are not afraid. I think this movement deserves the people's support," he told AFP, refusing to provide his last name.
"I had my back to the police and they struck me three times, once in my arm. The riot police hit everyone, women, old people.
The central plaza has become a symbolic site for “Los Indignados,” a movement that has been protesting Spain's high unemployment and the government's handling of the nation's economic crisis.
The rally took place one day after riot police clashed with protesters who had massed outside the interior ministry after trying unsuccessfully to gain access to the square for several days. At least 20 people were injured during Thursday's confrontation.
Spaniards angered about the economic situation have been staging regular protests in Madrid since May 15. The movement later spread to other parts of the country.
Spain's unemployment rate of about 21 percent is the highest in the 17-nation euro zone. The country also has one of Europe's highest public debts. Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero has tried to reduce the debt by cutting government spending, raising the retirement age and making it easier for companies to fire employees.
Many citizens blame inept politicians for the country's economic crisis.