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Madrid mayor slammed for plan to clear homeless off streets

Even members of own Popular Party attack Gallardón's proposal, which some say is reminiscent of Franco-era hard line

The Madrid mayor's call for legislation to get the homeless off the streets, including when it is against their will, has raised criticism even within his own Popular Party. The regional premier, Esperanza Aguirre, said on Thursday that she is "not a friend of prohibitions," and that people have the right to refuse offers to sleep in a shelter.

Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón found himself defending an initiative that he unsuccessfully put forward in 2006, and he did so with a history lesson for the opposition Socialists in the city council. Told by the Socialist Jaime Lissavetzky that his bill "stank" of Franco's vagrancy law, the mayor replied that "it was not a Franco law, but a Socialist law" because it was in fact passed in August 1933 by prime minister Manuel Azaña in coalition with the Socialists. "You're not really up on this country's history," Ruiz-Gallardón quipped.

If it were passed into law, the mayor's measure would empower police to take beggars, prostitutes and drug addicts off the streets and to municipal shelters, even if they didn't want to go. Ruiz-Gallardón said that it was "not a populist nor an esthetic measure, but a social one."

"The situation of the homeless can't be avoided or ignored," he said. "With this proposal, the city is acting."

According to estimates by social services, between 500 and 600 people sleep out on the streets every night in Madrid, and around 40 percent of them have "mental problems or addictions," said the mayor. Finding a solution to this problem, he said, "is an obligation for a modern society that embraces solidarity."

Meanwhile, 14 groups that work with homeless people, including Cáritas Madrid, complained that the mayor's statements "link citizens living on the streets with concepts such as crime, filth and violence," and called his goal of a law to ban them from the streets "a step back" in citizen rights.