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Thousands in Spain protest ban on demonstrations, burning national flag

| Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, 8:54 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
Spaniards protest a public security measure approved by the lower house of parliament on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, in Madrid.
AFP/Getty Images
A demonstrator’s taped mouth symbolizes what critics call an infringement on freedom of speech in Spain’s proposed public security law in Madrid on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.

MADRID — Thousands of people protested in Spanish cities Saturday against a proposed law that would set hefty fines for offenses such as burning the national flag and demonstrating outside parliament buildings or strategic installations.

The Public Security Law was approved by one house of parliament last week and is expected to be accepted by the other government-controlled one next month. The bill has been heavily criticized by opposition parties and human rights groups as an attempt by the conservative government to muzzle protests over its handling of Spain's financial crisis.

The largest demonstrations occurred in cities such as Barcelona, Bilbao and Madrid, while smaller ones took place in Almeria, Granada and Valencia. Some protesters wore tape covering their mouths and carried placards calling the measures a “gagging law.”

The proposed law would allow fines of up to $37,000 for disseminating photographs of police officers that are deemed to endanger them or their operations.

Individuals participating in demonstrations outside parliament buildings or key installations would be fined as much as $745,000 if they are considered to breach the peace. Those insulting police officers could be fined up $745. Burning a national flag could cost the perpetrator a maximum fine of $37,000.

The protests — which included demonstrators mingling with large crowds of Christmas shoppers in some cities — ended peacefully. Police in Madrid forced media photographers to produce identity papers.

The demonstrators included groups opposed to forced evictions because the bill would levy fines of $37,000 for attempting to prevent home repossessions.

Others protested an element of the legislation that would entitle police in Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to summarily expel migrants caught trying to enter Europe by storming border fences.

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