Thousands protest against austerity in Italy, Portugal

UNITED::The demonstration in Rome brought together various protest groups, including migrant rights advocates and campaigners for affordable housing


Mon, Oct 21, 2013 - Page 6

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Italy and Portugal for mostly peaceful protests against austerity on Saturday, but there were clashes in Rome outside the Italian Ministry of Finance.

“We are laying siege to the city,” a group of students chanted as they marched through Rome, while others waved rainbow peace flags and held up banners from a variety of leftist movements.

“We are protesting a one-way austerity that is bringing the country to its knees,” Italy’s Cobas trade union group’s Piero Bernocchi said.

“And it hasn’t achieved what it was meant to by bringing down debt,” he said. “Meanwhile politicians continue with their privileges.”

Italy is struggling to shake off a two-year recession that has pushed unemployment to record levels, shut down thousands of businesses and forced many young Italians to leave the country.

“The government cannot hide behind a few burnt rubbish bins and a smashed-in window,” Communist Refoundation party’s Paolo Ferrero said.

“It needs to answer the demand to abandon austerity and answer a generation that is not being offered anything at all,” he said.

Fifteen people were detained during the protest in Rome and about 100 militants were seen throwing rocks at police guarding the finance ministry, who charged and chased them into side streets.

Two police officers were injured in the clashes.

The window of a branch of UniCredit bank, Italy’s biggest lender, was also smashed in by protesters and the hacker group Anonymous took down several institutional Web sites to coincide with the rally.

Police at one stage during the protest kept apart rival groups of far-left and far-right militants and bomb disposal experts were called to the scene when a flash thunder grenade containing a bullet was found outside the headquarters of the state railway.

Organizers said 70,000 people took part, while police put the number at about 50,000. Between 3,000 and 4,000 police officers were deployed.

Police had seized potential weapons including chains, helmets, clubs and cobblestones and detained 14 people ahead of the protest.

Many local shops in the area stayed shuttered.

The demonstration in Rome brought together various groups, including migrant rights advocates, campaigners for affordable housing and protesters against a new high-speed rail link in the Alps.

They later rallied near the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, which they blame for failing to ensure enough public housing and wasting money on large-scale construction projects.

As night fell, protesters began setting up tents near in an unsanctioned part of the protest on Porta Pia Square.

Some protesters had spent the previous night camped out on a different square after a demonstration and strikes on Friday.

Meanwhile in Lisbon, thousands of protesters boarded about 400 buses that were rented especially to get about an Portuguese Ministry of the Interior ban on marching on foot across the city’s famous April 25 bridge.

In Porto, the capital of the northern part of the country, organizers said that “between 50,000 and 60,000 people” were taking part in a protest there, but police put the number at 25,000.

“This is a great day of struggle,” said Armenio Carlos, secretary general of the CGTP, a trade union confederation close to the Communist party.

This was the first major street mobilization seen in Portugal since the government unveiled its budget plans on Tuesday last week, which will hit public servants and pensioners.

Among the most contested measures is a plan to cut civil service salaries by between 2.5 percent and 12 percent, as well as reducing pensions for former civil servants by 10 percent.

The cuts would not apply for salaries or pension payments below 600 euros (US$820) gross a month.