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Thousands of protesters have marched in central Madrid to protest against a visit by Pope Benedict XVI and police violence during previous demonstrations about the trip.

As the protest got under way on Friday, the pontiff presided over a service just a few hundred metres away, attended by hundreds of thousands young pilgrims.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 marchers left from Madrid's main Atocha railway station in the evening heading for the Puerta del Sol square.

But scores of police blocked access to the square, where clashes took place on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The protesters were angry over the cost of the World Youth Day celebrations led by the pope, and over police crackdowns on their previous demonstrations.

"No more police brutality," said one banner.

Baton-wielding anti-riot police dispersed about 150 protesters from the Puerta del Sol on Thursday.

The official cost for the Catholic youth celebrations is $73m, excluding the cost of police and security.

This has upset many in economically troubled Spain, where nationwide unemployment stands at more than 20 per cent, while youth unemployment is running at more than 45 per cent.

"We don't want to pay taxes for this man [the pope] to travel free," Elsa, a 45-year-old unemployed woman, said at Friday's march.

The pilgrims, "they have their own reductions on the metro, in restaurants. I have no reductions and I have no work."

Source: Agencies