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Eviction protestors scuffle with police

Platform group prevents judicial authorities from serving notice in Torrejón

Between 60 and 70 people on Thursday stopped what would have been the second home eviction within a 24-hour period in the Madrid town of Torrejón de Ardoz. Luis Mendes, a 40-year-old immigrant from Guinea-Bissau who is currently unemployed, has now been given until January 10 to find a solution to his problem or else seek out a new place to live.

A group of protestors stood guard outside number seven on Soria street, to prevent the eviction from being carried out. Around 30 police officers showed up at 8am to ensure that the judicial commission in charge of serving Mendes with the eviction notice would be able to complete the task.

A young man was arrested during the face-off between protestors and the authorities, while several more were dragged away from the site.

The atmosphere that greeted the commission was tense. Cries of "Shame on you!" erupted from the crowd, as well as "Where's the mayor? Why isn't he with the citizens?"

The protestors were part of a grassroots movement known as the Platform of Mortgage Victims, which has been actively blocking home evictions across Spain, where an ongoing economic crisis and a 21-percent unemployment rate has led to a rise in foreclosures in a country with very high home ownership levels.

An activist made the victory sign from the apartment window shortly after the commission granted Mendes a reprieve. "We did it! The eviction is on hold until January!" another protestor excitedly told a friend over the phone.

Luis Mendes took out a 118,000-euro home loan in 2002. Until 2010, he worked in construction and made around 1,800 euros a month, of which he sent 250 to his wife and eight children back home. Since then he has been out of a job, and the unemployment checks stopped arriving a few months ago. He does not know how much money the bank is asking him for, or what he will do when he is kicked out of his place, but everything suggests that he will suffer the same fate as an Ecuadoran woman who was evicted Wednesday on the very same street. Two other neighboring families are awaiting similar evictions in the coming days.

Despite similar action by some 60 protestors on Wednesday, around 20 riot police officers helped authorities evict Consuelo, a native of Ecuador who owed two years on her mortgage. Her husband is on the unemployment rolls and she works by the hour for a cleaning company, earning 370 euros a month. The bank still claims she owes them 183,000 euros. Consuelo has three children whom she has sent back to Ecuador. She would return too, were it not for the fact that one of her guarantors is her sister, who would inherit her debt if she packed up and left.

The next eviction is due at number eight, where a family from the Philippines owes many months on their rental. He was a cook until four years ago. She works as a live-in cleaner and does not make enough to pay the rent and expenses. And then there is another neighbor, Nelly Moreira, an Ecuadoran woman, who is two years past due on her mortgage. She used to work at a cosmetics firm, but now she cleans by the hour.

David Muñoz, a partner at the property agency Aragón, located at the end of the street, sums up the crisis: "In 2007, the average apartment on this street cost 210,000 euros. Now, we have several for 60,000 euros and we can't sell them."