Thousands rally, clash with police in Spain over Pope Benedict’s visit

August 18, 2011

(Protesters rebuke pilgrims (C) during a demonstration against what they claim is the expensive cost of the papal visit in central Madrid coinciding with the second day of the World Youth Day meeting August 17, 2011/Juan Medina)

Thousands of protesters marched in Madrid on Wednesday evening against the cost of the Pope’s visit to Spain this week at a time of growing public anxiety and economic hardship in the country. Protesters of all ages walked in the old city centre under the slogan ‘Nothing for the Pope from my taxes’, as hundreds of thousands of young people gather in the capital of the mainly Catholic country to celebrate World Youth Day this weekend.

“It is costing a lot of money for the Spanish state which is going through a bad period,” said 55-year old Rosa Vazquez, carrying a placard saying ‘Religion is the opium of the people, don’t drug yourself with our taxes’.

Pope Benedict arrives in Madrid on Thursday for a four-day visit culminating in a mass on Sunday in the Cuatro Vientos aerodrome which over two million people are expected to attend. The cost of the papal visit has triggered heavy criticism at a time of economic hardship in Spain from disaffected youths, as well as gay and lesbian and transgender groups, atheists and even some priests.

(Following is a Reuters video report followed by more protest footage)

The crowds walked peacefully through the centre shouting slogans against the visit and waving banners reading ‘The Pope travels, the Pope pays’. Near Madrid’s central Puerte del Sol square they were met with pro-Pope pilgrims, with some waving Vatican flags.

Pilgrims and protestors exchanged shouts when they were separated by the police cordon. “Your Pope is a Nazi,” chanted some, as young Catholics replied “Benedict, Benedict.” Subsequently, the cordon was relaxed and pilgrims and protesters got into discussions – some heated – while some young Catholics knelt to pray, to the amazement of the protesters. At one point, the police charged the protesters to vacate the square. (For more pictures of the protest, click here)

The operation ended with six people arrested and two policemen injured, a police spokesman said.

Critics have put the cost of the visit at around 100 million euros but the government has declined to give a figure.

“We are not against the people celebrating the Pope’s visit, but we don’t agree that we have to pay without anyone asking us,” said 20-year old Nora. Others were more critical said the Church had too much power and held banners such as ‘Papa don’t Preach’.

Read the full story by Sonya Dowsett and Brenton Cordeiro here. From our Spanish service: La manifestación laica acaba con cargas policiales


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