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Madrid demonstrators vow to hold their ground

Zapatero says he "understands" protestors' complaints; campaign spreads from capital to other Spanish cities and to embassies abroad

Demonstrators who are camped out in Madrid's Puerta del Sol said Thursday they will disregard any unfavorable ruling coming from the state's Central Electoral Board, which was meeting to decide whether protestors should disband ahead of Sunday's local and regional elections.

Race officials began closed-door discussions at 5pm (CET) over concerns that the wave of protest rallies, which have swept across Spain since last Sunday, could have some weight on voters' final decisions at the polls.

The group Real Democracy Now is spearheading the so-called May 15 Movement organized to express anger at the political parties, big business and rising unemployment. Organizers are asking Spaniards to boycott the Socialists and Popular Party (PP) at the ballot, and demonstrators have vowed to remain in the square until the elections on Sunday.

"We are here because there is not one party that represents us"

Spaniards abroad have also set up camps outside Spain's embassies in Berlin, London and Amsterdam

Meanwhile another platform, Actuable, said that it has collected more than 102,000 signatures through its web page to present to election officials demanding that the protestors are allowed to stay.

In his first public comments since the demonstrations began on May 15, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told Telecinco on Thursday morning that "we must listen" and "be sensitive" to the protestors' complaints because "they have reasons to express their discontent"

"From here we need to strengthen and improve what in countries that have achieved higher levels of democratic freedom is considered the mainstream," he said.

PP spokesman Enrique González Pons also agreed. "The government cannot ignore them and neither can we."

Brushing off the wet weather, more than 10,000 people gathered in the capital's central square on Wednesday night- the highest number since the rallies began - after Madrid regional election officials decided that the protestors had to leave the famous plaza. Anti-riot police were called out but no major confrontations were reported. Organizers said they have appointed their own security teams to keep demonstrators from getting out of hand.

Most of the demonstrators are young people- part of Spain's so-called Lost Generation because of the financial crisis- but the middle-aged and elderly have also turned up.

"We are here because there is not one party that represents us," said one junior high school student.

People also gathered in the main squares in other Spanish cities, such as in Barcelona, Granada, Seville and Valencia. There are at least 57 so-called "Sol campsites" that have popped up across the country in solidarity with people in Puerta del Sol. Spaniards living abroad have also set up camps outside Spain's embassies in Berlin and London, and in Amsterdam's Dam Square.

Spaniards in New York are organizing a protest in Washington Square Park for 12.30pm on Saturday.

The Central Electoral Board, which monitors races and sets campaign policy across the nation, wants to issue a ruling that would cover all Spanish cities.