Demonstrators rally against pope's visit to Britain
Several thousand protesters opposed to Pope Benedict XVI gathered in central London on Saturday waving banners and placards in the biggest demonstration against his state visit to Britain.
The "Protest The Pope" rally of a coalition of protest groups began at the edge of Hyde Park, where the pontiff was to later hold an open-air prayer vigil for an estimated 80,000 pilgrims.
Police said that 2,000 to 3,000 people were at the rally, while organisers claimed up to 10,000 were taking part.
Demonstrators held up signs saying: "Pope's opposition to condoms kills people", "Pope promotes prejudice" and "Boss of the world's largest sex abuse gang".
Many protesters wore homemade cardboard mitres bearing slogans.
Italian software engineer Max Civino, 37, who lives in London, told AFP: "The Church represents a model of society that is based on a sexist vision of the world.
"This is the effect of the policy of the Church which has a really mediaeval culture."
He complained that the Church did not do enough for the poor.
"The pope represents an institution that is very far from the real problems, such as poverty, so we are here to protest against him."
Earlier Saturday, in a mass at London's Westminster Cathedral, Pope Benedict expressed his "deep sorrow" for the "immense suffering" of children sexually abused by Catholic clerics.
Among the demonstrators at Hyde Park Corner, Barbara Dorris, from St. Louis in the United States, held a banner with a photograph of herself aged seven at Holy Communion. She said she was abused at that age by a priest.
"We've heard apologies but he hasn't taken any action. He has apologised time and time again but he hasn't done anything," she said.
The demonstration was organised by a mix of groups, including the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society.
"We profoundly disagree with the pope's opposition to women's rights, gay equality and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV," serial rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, one of the organisers, told the BBC.
He insisted: "This is not an attack on the Catholic people or the Catholic faith. We are critical of certain policies of the pope."
Following a march through London, the protests will culminate in a rally outside Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office.
© 2010 AFP