Protesters clashed with police at a demonstration on Saturday against the planned expansion of an airport and US military base in the northern city of Vicenza.
Demonstrators wearing helmets and carrying plastic shields threw stones and other objects at officers guarding a bridge on the route of the protest. Police fired tear gas canisters and clubbed some demonstrators, but no injuries were immediately reported.
Several thousand protesters, many from other Italian cities, converged on Vicenza to march against the expansion of the Dal Molin airport. They beat drums and carried rainbow peace flags, caricatures of US President Barack Obama and banners that read “No Dal Molin.”
The plan would allow the transfer of four US battalions from Germany, raising the number of active duty personnel in Vicenza to 5,000 from about 2,900 already stationed at the Ederle base on the other side of town.
The move is part of the US Army’s plans to transform itself into a lighter, more mobile force. Under the plans, elements of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade, a rapid reaction unit now spread between Italy and Germany, would be united.
The staunchly pro-US conservative administration of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pushed ahead with the expansion, which was also approved by his center-left predecessor, Romano Prodi, despite anger from his Communist and Greens allies.
Construction is scheduled to be completed by 2011.
Some residents, far left groups and environmentalists have been protesting the expansion for years, saying it would increase traffic, noise and air pollution, deplete local resources, including water and gas, and raise the risk of terrorist attacks.
Protests have been frequent in the city of 110,000, and Saturday’s demonstration was staged to coincide with July 4, in what organizers said would mark an “Independence Day” from the US base.
The march was also seen as a test of other protests that are planned against this week’s G8 summit in L’Aquila.
The government moved the meeting from the posh Sardinian island of La Maddalena to the central Italian city after it was hit by a devastating earthquake in April.
Berlusconi said the move sought to draw attention to the population’s plight and limit the possibility of violence because protesters would not dare vandalize the stricken city.
Last time Italy hosted the G8 summit, in 2001, violent clashes left one protester dead and devastated the port city of Genoa.
The US embassy in Italy has issued a warning to Americans to exercise caution while traveling through Italy during the summit, particularly in areas like Rome and L’Aquila, where several demonstrations are planned.