Italian anti-austerity protesters clash with police

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 19, 2013 11:42 AM
Italian anti-austerity protesters clash with police

By Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - Demonstrators clashed with Italian police on Saturday as tens of thousands marched through Rome to protest against unemployment, government cuts and big construction projects they say take money away from social services.

Hooded protesters turned over garbage bins in front of the economy ministry and set several of them on fire. Police in riot gear charged, chasing demonstrators up side streets to keep them away from the ministry.

Several hooded demonstrators, who threw smoke bombs, eggs and bottles at the ministry and broke the window of a nearby bank, were taken away by police.

The protest comes as Prime Minister Enrico Letta is trying to hold together his shaky left-right coalition government and struggling to lead Italy out of its worst post-war recession.

Letta's 2014 budget, unveiled on Tuesday, has become a focal point of discontent, with unions complaining about freezes on public sector salaries and what they say is an insufficient easing of the tax burden on workers. Youth unemployment is at an all time high at 40.1 percent.

Organizers said at least 70,000 people joined the march that started in Piazza San Giovanni on the south side of the city and snaked its way through a mostly deserted center.

Many shops along the route were closed as a precaution for fear the demonstration could turn violent, as a similar one did two years ago when several people were injured as protesters smashed windows and set fire to cars.

The mostly young demonstrators held up banners against unemployment, lack of affordable housing and the planned TAV high-speed train link to France.

Opponents of the project say that as well as environmental concerns, the money to build the high-speech train should be used to help the poor and unemployed.

"This protest is to demand basic rights: a job paying a wage, and housing," said Matteo, a 20-year-old student from the eastern Marche region, who declined to give his surname.

"All the most downtrodden people are here to protest, unemployed people, students, immigrants, workers without job security," he said.

Immigrants seeking asylum also joined the demonstration, holding banners reading "Lampedusa," the name of the island where many migrants land after crossing the Mediterranean Sea from north Africa. Nearly 400 have died at sea this month alone.

At least 4,000 police were on duty, securing the route of the demonstration, particularly near the Industry Ministry and the Bank of Italy.

Police said they had confiscated teargas canisters and rocks from some of the demonstrators' backpacks.

They also said they found rocks and chains hidden behind bushes along the route of the demonstration.

Police said 14 people, several from anarchist movements, had been detained at the border with France and suspected of planning to disrupt the demonstration with violence.

(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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