Madrid - Thousands of young Spaniards were Saturday attending sit-in protests all over the country, despite a ban on such rallies ahead of Sunday's local and regional elections.
The protesters are demanding a reform of Spain's democratic system, which they see as corrupt, serving the interests of banks and capital, and as favouring only two large parties.
Police will not disperse the rallies unless they turn violent, the government announced Friday.
The government was trying to avoid pre-election violence, despite a decision by the national electoral commission to prohibit rallies on Saturday, which is a pre-election 'reflection day,' and on election day itself.
At Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square, more than 25,000 demonstrators protested against the ban when it entered into force at midnight. Many sealed their mouths with tape or plaster.
In Barcelona, at least 8,000 people gathered on Catalonia Square, where they greeted the midnight hour with applause and shouted: 'We shall not leave!'
The protests were described as peaceful and well organized. No police interventions were reported.
Hundreds of people attended similar rallies staged by expatriate Spaniards in other European capitals and in Latin America, according to media reports.
Any pre-election violence was deemed likely to cost votes for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialists, who had already been expected to suffer heavy losses to the opposition conservatives.
The protesters, however, have not sided with any political party, nor called for abstention or casting blank votes.
The movement has become known as M-15, in reference to May 15, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets in more than 50 Spanish cities.
The movement emerged on the internet a few months ago in response to Spain's economic crisis, which caused unemployment to soar to 20 per cent. Among young people, the jobless rate exceeds 40 per cent.
Spain has risen out of recession, but growth is expected to remain slow for years to come.