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Police dislodge last of 15-M protestors

Camps on Sol square and Paseo del Prado broken up without incident

Around 300 local and national police officers cleared what was left of the 15-M protest movement at Sol Square, in the heart of Madrid, and on Paseo del Prado on Tuesday. The joint operation by Madrid authorities and the Interior Ministry took two hours and met with no resistance from the around 90 individuals still camping out at both sites.

Beginning in May, Sol became the symbol for a grassroots movement that mobilized tens of thousands of people in protest over the economic crisis and against the political class as a whole, widely viewed as corrupt and uninterested in citizen concerns. A weeks-long camp-out in the square inspired similar initiatives in other countries, and was briefly compared with May 1968. Other 15-M protestors had been camped out in Paseo del Prado since July 23, when demonstrators from other parts of Spain arrived for a mass protest.

Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón and Interior Minister Antonio Camacho were "in complete harmony" in connection with this operation, a source said. Since the main camp was disbanded on June 12, the government had held that the 15-M information booth that remained in Sol was a municipal concern, while local authorities argued that it was a matter of "public order" and thus of national interest.

The eviction comes a week after a failed attempt that ended with police charging against the protestors. A few demonstrators told the SER radio station that this latest move is "more than strongly related" to the upcoming visit to Madrid by Pope Benedict between August 16 and 21, and that they were "expecting it."

Ignacio Laro, president of Apreca, the association of business owners in the area, said he was "very happy" because "the problem has been solved and the square can now resume its [commercial and tourist] activity."

Around 200 national and 100 local police participated in the operation, which police department officials said was "appropriate and in line with principles of suitability, opportunity and proportionality." There was also a major cleanup operation that deployed 38 vehicles and 74 operators who said they removed a total of 26,940 kilograms of waste - 17,900 from Sol and 9,040 from Paseo del Prado.

Police sources said the operation began at 6.15am simultaneously at both locations, and that after some initial resistance the protestors dispersed peacefully. Of the 60 people asked for identification, 20 were homeless people known to local agents.

Three protestors told this newspaper that the police came into Sol and said: "Wake up, you have five seconds to pick everything up and leave." Later in the morning there was nothing left of the information booth, and the cleanup services loaded the last of the posters onto a truck. Among the items removed from the square were four canisters of butane gas - which is what the police were most concerned about - five fire extinguishers, and all sorts of papers.