ROME (Reuters) - Several thousand students and teachers marched through central Rome on Saturday to protest against austerity measures imposed by Prime Minister Mario Monti's government that have cut into education spending.
Appointed a year ago when Italy came close to a Greek-style debt crisis, Monti has pushed through painful tax hikes and spending cuts to try to rein in public finances at a time when schools and universities say they desperately need more support.
"We need to fight for our rights. This government doesn't represent us and these austerity measures and all the cuts they've introduced are totally anti-democratic," said student protester Tommaso Bernardi.
Several other protests are due to take place in Rome later on Saturday including a rally organized by a far right group that opposes the Monti government as well as an anti-fascist march.
Police have organized different routes and times for the rallies to reduce the risk of violence after scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators during protests on November 14 that saw the police criticized for heavy-handed tactics.
"We need to change this country, starting from investments in schools, universities and culture," said Michele Orezzi, a university union coordinator, saying that Italy's education system was "crumbling into pieces".
With youth unemployment at about 35 percent, more than three times the national average, and Monti's austerity policies biting into education spending, school pupils and university students have taken an active role in anti-government protests.
Students have occupied schools around Rome in recent weeks to express their anger and frustration at repeated funding cuts, chaining gates shut and camping inside classrooms.
Monti has defended his austerity plan, saying he believes his technocrat government will be remembered for having helped Italy pull itself out of a deep economic crisis without needing to resort to external aid.
(Reporting by Catherine Hornby and Reuters Television; Editing by Andrew Osborn)