New Year revellers defy Spain's economic woes

Uncowed by cold, rain and recession, revellers in Madrid on Monday sought to numb the pain of economic crisis with a glass of wine and plenty of cheer as the New Year reached Spain.

Armed with snacks and bottles, hundreds gathered in the evening rain on the capital's Puerta del Sol square for the countdown to 2013, set to be a fifth year of crisis for Spain.

Manuela Ibanez, 51, who came from Barcelona with her two daughters, said however: "At times like this we forget the crisis."

Sol has been the scene of numerous protests against crisis reforms, but with its clock tower it is also a prime spot to count down to the midnight chimes.

Wrapped up against the cold, Ibanez and family brought a bottle of cider -- instead of Cava sparkling wine -- and bunches of grapes for the traditional Spanish new year rite: the gobbling of 12 grapes, one with each chime at midnight.

"We will drink from the same bottle, we will kiss each other and wish each other happiness and good health for the coming year. That is the most important thing," she said.

"For a few moments we will stop thinking about our problems."

Several hundred people gathered under umbrellas in the square, with thousands more expected to arrive by midnight.

Earlier a horde of joggers sped shouting and smiling along the avenues of Madrid in the 10-kilometre (six-mile) New Year fun-run.

Cheered on by bystanders, the runners -- 40,000 according to organisers -- raced through the evening chill in orange tops, red Santa hats and reindeer antlers.

Spaniards had as much cause as any Europeans to reflect bitterly this new year's eve. The recession has thrown millions out of work and into poverty, according to official figures and aid groups.

Madrid town hall said it was expecting about 240 people to attend a new year dinner for the needy at one of its main homeless shelters, where shrimps, salmon and chocolate were on the menu.

More than one in four workers is unemployed and an economic contraction of 1.5 percent is forecast for 2012. In 2013, the government foresees a further 0.5-percent slump but independent economists expect it to be sharper.

Standing beneath the white face of the clock on the Puerta del Sol, Ibanez's daughter Sandra, 22, said 2013 is the year she will finish university, where she is studying to be a translator.

"I think it is going to be quite difficult in Spain to find work in that area," she said, standing beside her boyfriend Manuel Ortiz, 25, a waiter, who wore a black and white jester's hat.

"I may end up leaving for France or Britain," she added. "It will be a year of big changes and important decisions."

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