Rome has been rocked by the most violent protests it has witnessed for years as a demonstration against “corporate greed” turned into a riot.
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Tens of thousands marched in Rome as part of a global day of protests inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movementPhoto: AFP
By Harriet Alexander, Foreign Affairs Correspondent
5:35PM BST 15 Oct 2011
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Italian capital to protest peacefully, but several dozen mask-wearing anarchists broke free from the main demonstration to rampage through the city.
Police fired tear gas and water cannons as rioters smashed shop and bank windows, set fire to cars and hurled bottles. Some protesters carried clubs, others wielded hammers. They destroyed bank cash machines, set bins on fire and assaulted at least two news crews from Sky Italia.
At least 70 protesters were injured and three were reported to be in critical condition. Twenty five of the injured were treated at a field clinic near St John Lateran square, where most of the clashes between protesters and police occurred, while the rest were taken to hospitals around the city. More than 30 policemen were hurt.
“Those who are carrying out what is nothing less than urban guerrilla warfare are hurting the cause of people around the world, who are trying to freely express their discontent with the world economic situation,” said Pierluigi Bersani, head of the Democratic Party, the largest in the opposition.
“Unacceptable violence and devastation is happening right now on the streets of Rome.”
The militants were also challenged by other protesters. “No to violence!” they shouted and tried to restrain them, but the violence only worsened as the afternoon drew on.
A street of cars was set alight, and a police van attacked in St John Lateran square. The two officers inside the vehicle were seen scrambling as it was pelted with rocks and metal poles. A mob wearing jeans and hooded jackets, their faces concealed, smashed the windows of the riot van before setting fire to it. One riot officer could be seen with blood pouring down his face as he lifted his visor.
The demonstration had begun peacefully but suddenly turned violent, forcing Gianni Alemanno, the mayor of Rome, to order all public museums in the capital closed.
Hours later police were still firing tear gas canisters and training water cannon on violent demonstrators in Piazza San Giovanni, the terminus of the demonstration, where a final rally was due to be held.
Heavy smoke billowed into the air in central Rome, close to the Colosseum, and the breeze was thick with tear gas. One building, believed to be an annexe of the Defence Ministry, caught fire after the flames spread from a car.
Peaceful protesters defended their right to express their views. “I am here to show support for those don’t have enough money to make it to the next pay cheque while the ECB (European Central Bank) keeps feeding the banks and killing workers and families,” said Danila Cucunia, a 43-year-old teacher from northern Italy.
Nicla Crippa, 49, said: “We can’t carry on any more with public debt that wasn’t created by us but by thieving governments, corrupt banks and speculators who don’t give a damn about us.
“They caused this international crisis and are still profiting from it. They should pay for it.”
The protest was one of many staged around the world yesterday to show solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, venting anger over years of economic and financial crisis since a global credit boom went bust in 2007.
Tens of thousands, nicknamed “the indignant”, marched in major cities across Europe, as protests that began in New York linked up with long-running demonstrations against unpopular government cost-cutting and failed financial policies in Europe.
In Frankfurt 5,000 people protested at the European Central Bank, and some were setting up a tent camp aiming at permanently occupying the green space in front of the ECB building.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spoke to about 500 demonstrators outside St Paul’s cathedral in London, calling the international banking system a “recipient of corrupt money”.
Several hundreds more marched in the German cities of Berlin, Cologne and Munich and the Austrian capital of Vienna, while protesters in Zurich, Switzerland’s financial hub, carried banners reading “We won’t bail you out yet again” and “We are the 99 per cent”.
In Brussels, thousands of marched through the downtown area chanting, “Criminal bankers caused this crisis” They pelted the stock exchange building with old shoes then marched on to the European Union sector.
In Helsinki, around 300 activists held a peaceful, creative rally with home-made signs and stalls full of art and food. In Spain, marches converged on Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza just before dusk.
Portuguese angry at their government’s handling of the economic crisis protested in central Lisbon, while in Toronto, New York and Chile more protests were organised. In the Philippines, some 100 people marched on the US Embassy in Manila to support the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Organisers said on their website that the aim was to “initiate the global change we want”.
“United in one voice, we will let politicians, and the financial elites they serve, know it is up to us, the people, to decide our future,” they declared. However, the mayor of Rome condemned the violent factions.
Noting that the demonstrators had called themselves “the indignant ones”, he said: “Those who are really indignant are the citizens of Rome.”