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Students occupy Leaning Tower, storm Colosseum

Mayhem as nationwide protests against govt reforms continue

25 November, 18:23
Students occupy Leaning Tower, storm Colosseum

(ANSA) - Rome, November 25 - Students occupied the Leaning Tower of Pisa and stormed into the Colosseum on Thursday as protests against government education reforms and cuts continued to cause mayhem in many parts of Italy.

Around 20 students managed to get inside the tower and others formed a cordon outside to stop tourists entering the world-famous landmark.

Foreign visitors watched the scenes in amazement, many taking photos of protestors who could be seen at the top of the monument having hung a banner reading 'No to the Reform'.

Later dozens of students who had broken away from a big demonstration in the capital leaped over the Colosseum's turnstiles and put up a banner saying 'No cuts, no profit' on the arena's second tier.

These were just two of many protests in Italian cities the day after a group of students managed to push through the main entrance doors of the Italian Senate and around 15 people, including eight police, were injured in clashes in Rome. Five or six students were hurt, one bleeding from the head, in clashes with police in Florence on Thursday outside a debate on immigration with government programme undersecretary Daniela Santanche.

Sit-ins in Palermo blocked traffic at the Sicilian's city's train station, port and on its streets and smoke bombs and flares were set off in a demonstration. A train station in Turin was blocked shortly too and there was a sit-in at the northern city's famous Mole Antonelliana building, home to the national cinema museum.

Students staged protests on faculty roofs and occupied parts of university buildings in a number of other cities, including Naples, Cagliari, Palermo and Ancona.

A nationwide one-day student strike last week was marred by vandalism and also caused widespread disruption.

Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini repeated her criticism of the protests, saying the reform package she is pushing through parliament will increase efficiency, transparency in recruitment and break down the almost feudal 'baronies' that reportedly have a stranglehold in many universities.

''The bond between the students and the baronies is the strangest part of the protest,'' she said.

''This reform is needed to reduce waste so that our universities can be among the best in the world''. However, the plan suffered a setback when the government lost a vote to block an amendment on Thursday in the Lower House.

The amendment was tabled by the Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI) party led by House Speaker Gianfranco Fini, who has split from the People of Freedom (PdL) party he founded with Premier Silvio Berlusconi, leaving the government in danger of collapse.

Gelmini played down the importance of the defeat but said the reform may be scuppered if bigger ones follow.

''This morning an amendment of little significance was approved,'' Gelmini said before another vote on the bill that had been expected to take place Thursday was postponed to Tuesday.

''But I hope other amendments that would distort the sense of the reform are not approved. It would be unacceptable and if that happened, as minister I'd be forced to withdraw it''.

Italian students are unhappy at cuts that have hit primary, secondary and higher education across the board, putting thousands of non-tenured and short-term teachers out of work.

The government says these measures are necessary as part of its bid to rein in public spending and reduce the nation's deficit, while Gelmini has promised that ''most'' of the out-of-work temp teachers will be given permanent jobs ''in five years''.

Students also say contested reforms which, among other things, will seek to increase links between schools, universities and businesses, amount to privatisation of state education.

The centre-left opposition is also against the bill.

Anna Finocchiaro, the Senate whip for the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party (PD), said Wednesday that Gelmini was ''taking students and their families for a ride'' by claiming it was possible to reform Italy's education system without investing new money in it.

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