Italian protesters take on police during mass march against austerity
October 20, 2013
Violence broke out between police and demonstrators in Rome on Saturday as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest Italy’s new budget.
Fifteen protesters were arrested and at least 20 police officers were injured, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“We are laying siege to the city!” chanted the crowd, as a small minority pelted the police and government buildings with water bottles and eggs.
A group of protesters turned over garbage bins and set some of them on fire in front of the Economy Ministry.
Police say they confiscated tear gas canisters and rocks from some of the radicals in the predominantly youthful crowd and found chains stashed away along the route of the march.
Organizers estimated that 70,000 people took part in the protest, while authorities placed the number closer to 50,000.
“With this budget the government is continuing to hurt a country which is already on its knees,” said Piero Bernocchi, leader of the left-wing COBAS trade union that was behind the demonstration.
“Even after austerity has proven to be disastrous, with debt rising, the economy crumbling, and unemployment soaring, they still continue with these policies.”
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Enrico Letta - who is presiding over a fractious Left-Right coalition - presented the 2014 budget that immediately came under a firestorm of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.
Left-wingers criticized the document for freezing state sector pay and pensions, while right-wingers and businesses said it failed to stimulate growth with insufficient cuts to Italy’s oppressive corporate taxes.