(RTTNews) - Violent clashes erupted in the Spanish capital city of Madrid on Wednesday between police and thousands protesting against a lavish event progressing the city to celebrate the six-day World Youth Day (WYD 2011) festival in which Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to take part.The violence comes just hours before Pope Benedict's scheduled arrival at Madrid's Barajas airport on Thursday morning to participate in the event, which began on Tuesday and culminates on Sunday with an open-air mass celebrated by the pontiff.
Thousands of pilgrims from around the world are already in Madrid to participate in the event, which is expected to cost the Spanish tax payers millions of euros at a time the country is battling economic crisis.
Many in Spain blame economic mismanagement and political corruption for the current situation and oppose the austerity measures implemented by the government to tackle the crisis. The country's unemployment rate currently stands at 21 percent, which is the highest in the European Union.
Wednesday's trouble started after thousands, including those who oppose the high cost of pope's visit as well as government's austerity measures and teachings of the Catholic Church and members of gay rights groups, marched into the central Sol square chanting slogans.
The Sol Square has been the center of recent mass protests against the government's austerity measures and the high rate of unemployment in the country. The clashes broke out after police attempted to forcibly clear protesters from the square. The protesters reportedly responded to the move by throwing water bottles and other objects at the police.
Some unconfirmed reports suggested that hundreds of pilgrims gathered in the city to take part in the event also joined the police in their attempt to disperse the agitated protesters. However, there were no immediate reports of injuries from the clashes.
Opponents of the event say that it will cost the Spanish government at least 100 million euros. The Spanish government is yet to disclose the amount involved. But organizers of the event claim that it is pilgrim-funded and insist that it will generate more than 100 million euros for the Spanish economy without being a burden on tax-payers.