Social-housing protest sparks havoc in Rome
Four demonstrators, two police hurt31 October, 20:12
(ANSA) - Rome, October 31 - Four policemen and two demonstrators were hurt as a demonstration for social housing turned violent in Rome's historic centre Thursday.
Homeless numbers have risen steadily in Italy's longest recession in 20 years while tenants are finding it hard to pay the rent and evictions have hit a high, especially in big cities like Rome. Immigrants are among the worst affected, and, unlike in other countries, they are put lower down housing waiting lists than Italians.
At the same time, rents have shot up after rent controls were lifted and countless Italians have joined the ranks of the 'new poor'.
A string of recent surveys say social tensions are rising to boiling point among the jobless, poor and disenfranchised.
Thursday's demo, which included immigrants, was the worst in the Italian capital since an anti-capitalist protest wreaked mayhem in October 2011 in the most violent protest since the leftist and rightist clashes of the 1970s.
A big group of protestors, who were also demanding job-seeking allowance, lit flares when they reached the square outside the Italian Lower House after clashes with police caused havoc in central Rome.
Four police officers and two protestors were taken to hospital with injuries that were reportedly not serious, while about 10 others - mostly police - received medication on the spot.
Police sealed off access to Premier Enrico Letta's office, which is adjacent to the House, as around 300 protestors shouted "we won't stop".
Earlier on Thursday police fired tear gas to dispel protestors when clashes occurred after officers tried to haul down people who attacked and climbed onto a police armoured van.
Chaos ensued with tourists running for cover after protestors poured off a main street into the area of the famous Trevi Fountain to escape the tear gas.
Some shops in one nearby street rolled down their shutters and security guards at one of Rome's oldest and most elegant malls, the Galleria Colonna, near the premier's office, locked the doors for 10 minutes to stop protestors entering and scaring customers.
"Everyone has a right to a house," one of the protestors told ANSA. A Syrian man set himself on fire near the Colosseum, suffering non-life-threatening burns, but it was not known if his act was connected to the demo.
Earlier one policeman was seen on the ground after injuring his leg amid the trouble and protestors trying to break through a police barricade sprayed pepper spray at officers.
The protestors, including people campaigning for more social housing and migrants, also threw fruit and other objects at police cordons. Police also set up cordons in the area of President Giorgio Napolitano's residence, although there was calm in this part of town.
There was trouble at a big demonstration by activists demanding better social housing earlier this month, but the full-blown riot that had been feared beforehand did not materialise.
Transport and Infrastructure Minister Maurizio Lupi, whose brief includes housing, responded by unveiling a 140-million-eurto package to help ease Italy's housing emergency.
Some 100 million will be spent, starting in January, on rent support for struggling tenants while a further 40 million will go towards people who fall behind with their payments and risk eviction through no fault of their own as determined by courts.
In addition, 17.8 million euros will be earmarked for the problem, part of the proceeds from assets seized from Italy's various mafias, Lupi said.
"We are determined to take decisive action to tackle this emergency," he said.
The leftist opposition SEL party called for "an immediate halt to evictions".