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Spanish Banks Halt Evictions Amid Growing Protests

CIARAN GILES

MADRID (AP) â¿¿ Spain's major banks agreed on Monday to suspend some evictions of homeowners unable to pay their mortgages after hundreds of thousands of Spaniards lost their homes during the crushing economic crisis and two recently committed suicide.

The Spanish Banking Association declared the two-year halt only for homeowners they consider the most vulnerable. Such a program may only apply to homes with elderly or disabled residents, not mortgage holders who are unemployed.

The agreement came as officials from Spain's conservative government held talks with leading Socialist opposition party members to agree on new rules governing evictions.

Public attention on the talks intensified when a person about to be evicted from her dwelling committed suicide Friday, the second such case in about two weeks.

Debate is centered on Spain's unusually tough rules for mortgage holders. Homeowners unable to make monthly payments may be evicted and remain liable to repay whatever value is left on the mortgage after the repossession.

More than 350,000 people have lost their homes in this way over the past four years, many because they have lost their jobs or seen their wages plummet due to the crisis.

By comparison, people in the United States who default can return the keys to the bank and walk away from their debt.

Speaking in Brussels on Monday, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said his government aims "to introduce measures that ensure that no family acting in good faith will end up homeless because of the crisis. That is the commitment."

Regarding the eviction of indebted homeowners, he said: "I'm absolutely convinced that banks are interested in not having anyone's house. Therefore, I'm also convinced that everybody is going to make an effort to solve an important problem. Logically the bank system is going to do it."

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