Tens of thousands fill Madrid square for anti-austerity rally

Podemos supporters gather in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square on Saturday, January 31.

Story highlights

  • New party, Podemos, aims to emulate anti-austerity party's victory in Greece
  • El Pais: About 100,000 people attend rally at Puerta del Sol square
  • Party's first electoral test at home comes in May in regional and local elections

(CNN)Tens of thousands of supporters of Spain's new anti-austerity party filled central Madrid on Saturday, just a week after a like-minded party won national elections in Greece.

The new Spanish party, Podemos, aims for a repeat of the Greek scenario in Spain, with some polls already show it ahead of the incumbent Conservatives and the main opposition Socialists for national elections due later this year.
Podemos, which means "we can," held its "March for Change" at midday, filling the Spanish capital's emblematic Puerta del Sol square and adjacent streets. It's the same place where anti-austerity protests began four years ago during a deep economic crisis, and Podemos is seen partly as an outgrowth of that movement, which leveraged social media to further its message.
    A leading newspaper, El Pais, reported that Spanish authorities estimated about 100,000 people took part on Saturday, while Podemos put the figure at 300,000. El Pais' own estimate, based on people density along the oft-used protest route, was about 150,000.
    Whatever the number, it was considered a strong opening shot by Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, which formed only a year ago. He said Saturday's protest would start the countdown on Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose party has labeled Podemos as a supposedly dangerous choice that can't possibly deliver on its promises.
    Iglesias was in Athens just before the Greek elections to support Syriza, the anti-austerity party that would go on to win. Syriza's leader, Alex Tsipras, was in Madrid late last year when Podemos officially designated Iglesias as its leader.
    Both parties, in Greece and Spain, have insisted that there should be fresh negotiations on how to pay the large debts their countries incurred during the economic crisis.
    The debts and rolling back the austerity measures have been a key focus of both parties.
    Podemos last year won five seats for Spain in the European Parliament, considered a strong showing for a newcomer. Its first electoral test at home comes in May in Spanish regional and local elections, and then in national elections, due toward the end of the year.