Thousands protest pope visit to Madrid, police violence

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Thousands of protesters marched in central Madrid late Friday to protest a visit by Pope Benedict XVI and police violence during previous demonstrations, as the pontiff presided over a service a few hundred metres away.

"This is not the pope youth!" and "No to police violence!", the crowd chanted, waving their hands in the air.

The marchers -- between 3,000 and 5,000 --- left from Madrid's main Atocha railway station in the evening heading for the Puerta del Sol square.

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

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

The activists were angry over the cost of the World Youth Day celebrations led by the pope, and over police crackdowns on their previous demonstrations.

"No more police brutality," said one banner.

Just a few hundred metres (yards) away in the vast Plaza Cibeles square, Benedict, seated before hundreds of thousands young pilgrims, presided over a Stations of the Cross service as part of the August 16-21 WYD festivities.

Police tried to prevent the demonstrators from making contact with groups of pilgrims.

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."

On Wednesday night, thousands of anti-papal protesters and hundreds of young Roman Catholics in Madrid for the festival had hurled insults at each other in the square.

Police later dispersed the activists with batons and made seven arrests. Eleven people were reported slightly injured.

Protesters - including some priests -- are fuming over the official 50.5-million-euro ($73-million) price tag, excluding the cost of police and security, of the Catholic youth celebrations.

Nationwide unemployment stands at more than 20 percent while youth unemployment is running at more than 45 percent.

But organisers of the festivities say most of the cost will be covered by a registration fee from the pilgrims, and the celebration will be a massive tourist boost for Spain.

© 2011 AFP

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