Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative Popular Party, which stands to make huge gains in the elections, said he could understand the protesters’ motives.
The youth unemployment rate was “terrible,” and unacceptable in a country like Spain, he said.
“Zapatero made a mistake. First he did not see the crisis, then he was wrong on the measures and then he spent money we did not have. And he has put us in a very difficult situation,” Rajoy said.
Zapatero announced on April 2 that he would not stand for a third term in general elections scheduled for March 2012. Some in the party believe a new leader could halt the Socialists’ plummeting popularity.
But while the Socialist Party touts its tough economic reforms internationally as a sign that it is repairing Spain’s finances, analysts say the party will pay the price at the polls.
Spanish economic activity picked up the pace in the first quarter of 2011 with growth of 0.8 percent from a year earlier, boosted by rising exports, official data showed Wednesday.
But domestic demand was weak, buckling under the heavy jobless rate, the National Statistics Institute report showed.