Austerity-hit Spaniards clash with Madrid police in protest at a visit by Pope Benedict XVI that will reportedly cost their crisis-hit country €100 million.
As the country reeled after four months of protests, thousands more demonstrators took to the streets chanting the slogan, “not with my taxes”. On Puerto del Sol square, they hurled stones at a police cordon.
Pope Benedict XVI has come to Madrid to preside over a meeting of hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from around the world.
Protestors say it is not the Pope who has angered them, but rather the money that will be spent by organizers of his visit.
People on the streets believe this money could be better used at a time of drastic social spending cuts which are being implemented in exchange for the EU bailing out the Spanish economy at the expense of Europe’s more prosperous members.
The unemployment rate in Spain has hit an all-time high of 21 per cent.
The organizers of the visit insist that it won’t cost Spaniards a penny as the pilgrims and tourists flocking to Madrid to see the Pope are expected to bring along €100 million with them. Nevertheless, they are refusing to disclose the financial details to the public.
Madrid-based journalist Miguel Anxo Murado says that protesters are taking the situation too seriously and that Spain's economy is far from default. Murado argues that the EU is actually making the financial troubles look worse than they are.
“It is also true that there is a lot of exaggeration – Spanish debt is not that high and actually lower than the average in Europe,” he said. “And the [claim that] markets have been very hard on Spain was not true. Spain is a country that is not in such a danger of defaulting or anything of the sort.”
Spain is the main stronghold of Catholicism in Europe, but even with 72 per cent of the population professing the faith, they are not prepared to spend millions of euro on a “huge Christian circus”, as one of the protestors told the BBC.
It is believed that about 450,000 young people from 193 countries, including 2,000 from Russia, have flocked to the Spanish capital for the event that usually takes place once every two or three years. The actual number of pilgrims might be three times more, and an enormous camp the size of 48 football fields has been set up to accommodate them.
Pope Benedict XVI has promised full indulgence to everyone who comes to Madrid today.