Thousands protest pope visit to Madrid

19th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of protesters marched Friday in central Madrid to protest a visit by Pope Benedict XVI, who led a service just a few hundred metres (yards) away.

The activists are angry over the cost of World Youth Day celebrations led by the pope, and over police crackdowns on demonstrations they had organised the previous two days.

The marchers left from the Madrid's main Atocha railway station in the evening heading for the Puerta del Sol square.

But scores of police have blocked access to the square, where clashes took place at night on both Wednesday and Thursday.

"No more police brutality," said one banner.

Nine police vans followed the marchers on their route, with a police cordon in front.

Just a few hundred metres away in the vast Plaza Cibeles square, Benedict, seated before hundreds of thousands young pilgrims, presided over a Stations of the Cross service.

More than a million pilgrims are in Madrid for the August 16-21 World Youth Day festivities.

Protests have nevertheless broken out as some Spaniards vented anger over the money spent at a time of sharp economic pain, with more than 45 percent of under-25s registered unemployed.

Baton-wielding anti-riot police in Madrid late Thursday dispersed about 150 protesters from the Puerta del Sol, birthplace of Spain's widespread "indignant" protests over the handling of the country's economic crisis.

"We don't want to pay taxes for this man (the pope) to travel free," Elsa, a 45-year-old unemployed woman, said at Friday's march.

The pilgrims, "they have their own reductions on the metro, in restaurants. I have no reductions and I have no work."

© 2011 AFP

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