Rome braced for worst amid strikes, protests
Capital on high alert before demo by anarchists, left-wingers18 October, 19:57
A 24-hour transport strike and demonstrations against the budget package presented this week by Premier Enrico Letta caused mayor disruption Friday.
But the highest alert concerned a protest planned Saturday by anarchist and left-wing groups in the capital.
Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said a massive police presence would be in force along with a series of special measures to avoid a repetition of the running battles seen in the city during a demo in October 2011.
He ordered cars be stopped from parking in the areas of the protest, after many vehicles were torched two years ago, and had garbage bins removed to stop weapons being hidden in them.
"I hope that the protestors are wise and give the messages they think should be given and isolate any eventual irresponsible behaviour," said Marino. "Tomorrow the city will activate crisis activities and we really hope this effort is not needed for interventions, but is just prevention, so that the protest can take place as peacefully as possible.
"Demonstrating is important in every democracy and violence must be avoided in every circumstance".
Saturday's protest had been linked to the movement that is trying to stop work in northern Italy on the controversial TAV high-speed rail link that will connect Turin and Lyon.
Sources within the movement said Friday that it was not a 'NO-TAV' protest but added that their members would be taking part. The 'NO-TAV' demonstrators have become more militant as it appears increasingly likely the government will not be deterred from forging the key link in a European-wide high-speed network, which is seen as boosting Italian and French business.
There have been a spate of recent incidents including bomb attacks on the site of the TAV line in the Susa Valley in Piedmont.
Italian police, meanwhile, said that during security checks in Rome they had stopped five French nationals who are members of the so-called Black Block movement, a group of hooded militants that have provoked unrest across other European nations in past years. Two of the five are currently being investigated in France for acts of terrorism, whilst another two have already been flagged in the past as participants at NO-TAV protests.
The transport strike led to around 140 flights being cancelled at Rome's main airport.
Bus and train services were provided during rush hours but for much of the day traffic was clogged as workers were forced to drive cars or motorcycles to get to work because of reduced services. Consumer group Codacons said that, while strike was a "failure" in turns of worker participation, it "forced thousands of commuters to travel by their own means". Militant grass-roots unions called COBAS marched against government policies, including a freeze in public-sector pay rises, while calling for greater job creation. More than 4,000 officers were ready to squash attempted violence amid reports the hard-line unions have been infiltrated by anarchists and agents provocateurs. Similar traffic woes hit other Italian cities, including business capital Milan and Naples in the south. In Naples, at least 10 flights were cancelled and others delayed while trains and buses were slowed.