MADRID, Aug. 18 (UPI) — Spanish demonstrators clashed with police in a protest against public funding of a visit that began Thursday by Pope Benedict XVI, officials said.
At least 11 people were injured and eight arrested Wednesday after an estimated 20,000 demonstrators marched in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square to protest the pope’s controversial $72 million, four-day stay, El Pais reported Thursday.
Anti-papal protesters demanded a fully secular state and an end to privileges for the Roman Catholic church.
Spain faces tough economic conditions with 21 percent unemployment — the highest in the European Union.
Thousands of pilgrims supporting the pope also gathered in the center of the capital where the pope was expected to address young Catholics celebrating World Youth Day.
The pope was to be welcomed by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia at Barajas Airport and visit Nunciature, the Vatican’s embassy in Spain, north of Madrid.
More than 1 million pilgrims were expected in Madrid during the pope’s visit where protests by more than 100 groups were expected, officials said.