Spain's banks announced Monday they will freeze mortgage-related evictions for two years in cases of extreme need as a public outcry mounted over suicides by desperate homeowners.
The lenders reacted after two suicides in 15 days by indebted homeowners facing expulsion in Spain, where both banks and borrowers were hammered by a 2008 property crash.
The deaths shocked a country already weary of tough austerity measures in the midst of recession and record unemployment, and the news sent thousands into the streets in anti-bank protests.
As the uproar grew, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's right-leaning government was to hold a rare meeting with the opposition Socialists to discuss proposals to combat the evictions crisis.
The Spanish Banking Association noted "social alarm created by mortgage-related evictions" and said it had informed the government on November 8 of its members' decision.
The banks had agreed "for humanitarian reasons and within a framework of social responsibility, to halt reposessions during the next two years in those cases that involve extreme need," it said in a statement.
The decision was hammered out after a "deep and intense debate among associated banks so as to relieve the situation of helplessness of many people caused by the economic crisis."
Spain's association of savings banks, CECA, issued a separate statement saying it, too, had agreed to suspend evictions of the "most vulnerable" until new regulations are announced.
On Friday, 53-year-old former Socialist politician Amaia Egana jumped out of her apartment window to her death in the northern Basque municipality of Barakaldo.
Police said she killed herself "as the bailiffs were to evict her from her home".
On Sunday, the woman's savings bank, Kutxabank, ordered an immediate halt to all mortgage-related eviction procedures until new related regulations were revealed.
Her suicide came 15 days after 53-year-old Jose Luis Domingo hanged himself shortly before bailiffs came to turn him out of his home in the southern city of Granada.
After the latest suicide, crowds of people demonstrated on Friday in Madrid crying "Guilty! Guilty!" and "Shame! Shame!" as well as in Egana's municipality of Barakaldo.
Last month, a group of top magistrates released a report denouncing the trend of forced evictions, which they said have risen by a fifth this year and amounted to 350,000 between 2008 and 2011.
Rajoy said Friday he hoped that the talks with the opposition would include discussion of a "temporary halt to the evictions which are hitting the most vulnerable families."
He is also seeking ways to make the banks better apply their code of conduct, to renegotiate debts and allow people to remain in their homes.
"It's a difficult subject and I hope we will soon be able to give good news to all the Spanish people," Rajoy said.