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More than 10,000 people take to the streets to protest against pope

Degree of hostility over Pope Benedict's three day visit takes observers by surprise

I never expected to hear a middle-class crowd that almost filled up Piccadilly chanting "Fuck the Pope". But Saturday's anti-pope demo in London took even the organisers by surprise. I don't know how many people there were, but 10,000 seems a reasonable minimum estimate. It wouldn't be surprising if there had been 15,000.

The higher figure would be nearly a tenth of the number of people who paid to see the Pope over the last three days but it is still a lot more hostility than sober observers had expected.

There was a mixture of slogans from the policy wonkish to the straightforwardly abusive. "Boss of the world's largest sex abuse gang" said one, next to "Vatican promotes segregated schools". "Thou shalt not bugger boys" marched next to the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association. "Despicable, twisted, vile hypocrite" marched ahead of "Why not women priests?"

There was a picture of the pope holding a golden swastika, which the organisers apparently took down later, as offensive. I don't know why, since Richard Dawkins later delivered a speech comparing every Catholic in Britain to Adolf Hitler.

But for the most part, the crowd was cheerful and good humoured. Almost at the end, the condom fairy marched past: a young man who seemed like Puck, wearing a spiky headdress of inflated contraceptives.

Whether this energy will dissipate is one of the most interesting questions that the Pope leaves behind him. The crowd was certainly having a lot more fun than the gloomy handful of Paisleyite protestors traditional on these occasions. The face of anti-Catholicism in England has changed forever.

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