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Striking truckers cause pre-Christmas chaos

Protest less paralysing but more violent than expected

09 December, 18:01
Striking truckers cause pre-Christmas chaos (By Emily Backus).

(ANSA) - Rome, December 9 - Hundreds of striking truckers joined the so-called Pitchfork (Forconi) Movement on Monday to block or slow transportation in a number of cities in Italy.

So far the effect has been less paralysing - but more violent - than feared after the Italian government took a hardline on the eve of the strike, which on Monday choked parts of Turin, Genoa, Florence, Sardinia, Veneto and other areas in Italy.

A group of truckers taking part in the nationwide strike to protest heavy taxes, high fuel costs and alleged government mismanagement clashed with police in the downtown Piazza Castello square in Turin on Monday.

Police responded by firing tear gas after stones were thrown at their vehicles. A van belonging to broadcaster Sky was hit too.

Members of the movement then occupied the railway tracks of Turin's two main train stations, blocking trains and snarling traffic after a march from Piazza Castello.

Protestors also lit a fire at dawn in the middle of the street entrance to a Turin agroindustrial centre, blocking food distribution trucks from coming or going.

"We are very worried for what is happening," said Democratic Party (PD) Chamber Deputy Mario Tullo, head of the transportation commission.

Tullo said the protest had become "an unacceptable degeneration" into a fight using real violence and intimidation.

"It is unthinkable that the freedom to demonstrate is mistaken for freedom to threaten the police, citizens, shopkeepers and artisans," Tullo added.

Photos on the Forconi Facebook page showed traffic halted in the northeastern region of Veneto.

A comment celebrated: "40 minutes to make it around the roundabout. Roadblock succeeds at the West Vicenza exit!!!" Major traffic disruption was also felt in Genoa and Sardinia, while a 300-strong protest in the northern Italian city Monza went off without causing congestion.

Italian transport minister Maurizio Lupi on Sunday warned the government would not be soft with the projected one-week protest, set to disrupt bustling pre-Christmas commerce.

"It should be clear that truckers who tomorrow intend to strike do not have a request presented to the transport ministry that justifies them," said Lupi in a note.

"The government will firmly oppose any form of violence to guarantee security for citizens and the protection of their rights". The Pitchfork Movement was started by farmers and truckers in Sicily a couple of years ago, and led to a massive truckers' protest in the second half of January 2012 that paralyzed traffic and goods shipments all the way up the Italian peninsula, stripping food from grocery shelves, creating other stock shortages and causing millions of euros worth of damage. The Constituent National Civic Network (CRCN), which claims to be the protest's umbrella group, on Sunday said is taking the Italian State to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg with the accusation of tax oppression that has shuttered businesses, drained jobs and caused the country's decline. Verona Mayor Flavio Todaro sympathized with protest organizers.

"(The government's) failure to act costs 40 billion euros a year," he said. "In two years, 2012 and 2013, Italy paid an exorbitant bill for the lack of strategic, functional projects for the growth of this country".