March against papal visit ends in chaos

Police charge against radical element as pilgrims exchange insults with protestors

"Enough dicking around, get out your nightsticks and do what you have to." At around 11pm, when all of the streets surrounding the Puerta del Sol were closed, and as the riot police arrived, a police chief gave this order to clear the central Madrid square, which was filled with hundreds of people who had taken part in a secular march against the cost to the public purse of the pope's visit.

The demonstration, which had begun at 7.30pm, ended up in Sol, where pilgrims exchanged insults with demonstrators and the police struggled to keep the two sides apart. As a result of incidents between radical groups and the police, there were eight arrests and 11 mild injuries, including two police officers and one passer-by, according to a spokesperson from ambulance service Samur.

More information
Benedict XVI arrives in Madrid after anti-papal protest ends in violence

"My name is Flavia Torroto and I haven't done anything!" screamed one of those arrested, as several officers dragged her from the scene. One of the injured, who gave his name as Christian Salinas, claimed to be a Peruvian freelance photographer. "I'm from the press, I'm from the press!" he cried as the police beat him.

Officers charged several times against the radical demonstrators, who threw bottles and screamed "Murderers!" as they tried to get past the police cordon.

The demonstration — which went under the slogan of "None of my taxes for the pope — For a secular state," and was called to protest against the cost to the public of the pope's visit to Madrid this week — descended into chaos when the demonstrators reached Sol, and came upon pilgrims attending World Youth Day, which is due to bring together more than a million people in the Spanish capital this week.

The demonstrators were a mixture of republicans, grass-roots Christians, gays, atheists and 15-M protestors, all of whom had come together to criticize the "ostentation and public cost" of World Youth Day. According to the police, around 5,000 attended the march.

Of the hundreds of banners on display, many referred to the famine in Somalia. "The world is dying of hunger and your pope is here in a shiny suit," read one.

"Benedict!" shouted the pilgrims in Sol. "Is a Nazi!" replied the demonstrators. Two teenage girls began to pray in the middle of the tumultuous situation, while others began to sing and play guitars. "I'm a sinner, sinner, sinner," sang the demonstrators in reply.

According to the organizers of World Youth Day, the 50-million-euro cost of the week-long event is not coming from the public purse. But among the costs not included in that figure are an 80-percent discount on Metro tickets for attendees and the cost of ceding public buildings.

The march, which was organized by a hundred or so associations — including leftist parties, atheist groups and grass-roots Christians — had been heavily criticized by some politicians. The Madrid regional chief Esperanza Aguirre, of the conservative Popular Party, called for what she described as the "anti-Pope march" to be banned.

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