Protesters in Spain Decry Cost of Papal Visit

Posted August 17th, 2011 at 10:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Riot police in Madrid have clashed with demonstrators protesting the cost of Pope Benedict's visit to Spain at the time the country is grappling with financial woes.

Spanish daily newspaper El Pais reported Thursday that eight people had been arrested and 11 others hurt in the street violence.

Left-leaning groups organized the protest march Wednesday on the eve of the pope's arrival. Thousands marched in central streets shouting slogans and carrying messages criticizing the cost of the week-long extravaganza of World Youth Day and the pope's visit, which is estimated at more than $72 million.

More than one million young Catholics from around the world are expected to pour into the city ahead of the pope's arrival Thursday.

Highlights of the celebration include a mass confession and prayer vigil in the presence of the Pope in Madrid Saturday and a celebration of Mass on Sunday morning. It will be the Pope's third visit to Spain since his election in 2005, but comes at a time when the nation's economy is faltering and bitter debates are raging over the cost of the festival and the Catholic church's role in Spanish politics.

Upon arrival Thursday, Spain's royal family will greet Pope Benedict at Madrid's Barajas airport. The Pope will also meet with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose government has promoted several policies opposed by the church, including relaxing Spain's divorce laws, easing restrictions on abortion, legalizing same-sex marriage and allowing gay couples to adopt children.

Criticism of the papal visit has come mainly from the “Indignant Ones” protest movement, who have been protesting the country's economic woes, government spending cuts, and 21 percent unemployment.

On Tuesday, Spanish police arrested a Mexican chemistry student who was allegedly planning to attack demonstrators who are protesting the Pope's visit.

The authorities say he was planning to use asphyxiating gases and other chemical substances to attack protesters.