What was initially planned as a peaceful “Occupy Rome” protest turned into a violent demonstration in the Italian capital. Police reportedly used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds of angry Italians.
Protesters wearing masks and helmets threw rocks, bottles and other objects at police in riot gear. Some wielded clubs, while others were armed with hammers.
The demonstration against the government’s economic policy, with a crowd estimated at 200,000, descended into violent chaos when groups of angry protesters set cars on fire, smashed windows and attacked shops.
Protesters also attacked the Defense Ministry and set a wing of the building on fire.
Residents and peaceful demonstrators have been forced to find shelter into buildings and churches as militant protesters ran amok. Smoke is rising over many parts of the city center.
Some of the peaceful demonstrators, however, clashed with the more militant protesters and turned them over to the police.
At least 70 people were wounded in clashes with police, who used tear gas and water cannons against the protestors.
On Rome’s San Giovanni in Laterano Square, an estimated 25 people received onsite medical treatment, while others were brought to hospitals in the Italian capital, three of them in serious condition.
The mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, declared that those who have been smashing windows and burning cars are not the protestors, but a group of well-organized provocateurs who joined the rallies on purpose to provoke violence and unrest.
“Today in Rome we have seen the worst that is in Europe,” he said.
Dozens of demonstrators and police were injured, including one protester who was taken to the hospital with critical injuries, Reuters quoting officials as saying. At least 30 policemen suffered.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said those responsible for the violence must be identified and punished, calling the rioting “a very worrying sign for civil society… They must be condemned by everyone without reservation,” Reuters reported.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno blamed the violence on “a few thousand thugs from all over Italy, and possibly from all over Europe.”
The protests in the Italian capital were modeled on the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration against capitalism and austerity measures, which went global Saturday with dozens of marches and protests worldwide.
The website for the international movement said 951 cities in 87 countries were ready to “Unite for Global Change” – the official slogan of the rally. Sizable protests were held in Spain, the UK and New York.