Spanish police disperse protesters angry over fest’s costs
MADRID—Baton-wielding antiriot police in Madrid late Thursday dispersed about 150 protesters angry over the visit by Pope Benedict XVI and who had gathered in a main square.
Police had earlier blocked off the central Puerta del Sol square and used vans to hem in the demonstrators, furious over the cost of hosting the 84-year-old Pontiff, who arrived in Madrid earlier Thursday for the Catholic youth festival.
“They (the police) hit me five or six times. We came unarmed, we did nothing, we were here for a public demonstration,” said Bruno, 30, who had blood on his elbow.
“Thank goodness I covered my head or I would have been hit in the head,” he told an AFP reporter.
Ines Monroy Perez, 58, a museum employee said “they (the police) pushed me and I hid. People were running and they were being hit.”
A spokesperson for the Madrid emergency services said they had not attended to any injured.
Birthplace of protests
The Puerta del Sol, birthplace of Spain’s widespread “indignant” protests over the handling of an economic crisis, was also the scene of clashes on the previous night between activists and police.
Thousands of antipapal protesters and hundreds of young Roman Catholics in Madrid for the Aug. 16-21 World Youth Day celebrations had hurled insults at each other in the square on Wednesday night.
Police later dispersed the activists with batons and made seven arrests. Eleven people were reported slightly injured.
“I identify with the 15-M movement,” said Perez on Thursday. “I was here to show my indignation.”
Earlier, about 100 pilgrims attending the youth festival decried the protesters from outside the police perimeter shouting: “Shame!”; “Hypocrites!”; and “We are the youth of the Pope.” Police asked them to move on.
An underground metro station and a railway station in the square were also closed.
After the Pope presided over a welcoming ceremony nearby in Madrid’s emblematic square Plaza Cibeles, organizers warned pilgrims over loudspeakers: “Please do not go to Puerta del Sol for security reasons.”
The protesters were venting their anger over the expense of the Pope’s visit and World Youth Day celebrations at a time of belt-tightening and massive unemployment.
A 42-year-old bank employee who gave only his first name, David, hit out at the cost of the visit.
“The whole visit is being paid for with our taxes at a time when five million people are unemployed, and there is an enormous economic crisis, and they are making health and education cuts,” he said.
“This visit should have been held in a football stadium with them paying for the entrance tickets.”
Protesters—including some priests—are fuming over the price tag, excluding the cost of police and security, of the August 16-21 celebrations.
Nationwide unemployment stands at more than 20 percent, while youth unemployment is running at more than 45 percent.
But organizers 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. AFP