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Tension soars as pitchfork protests grind on

'Risk of street rebellion' warns interior minister

12 December, 18:30
Tension soars as pitchfork protests grind on (By Emily Backus) (ANSA) - Milan, December 12 - Officials warned there was a threat of 'rebellion' Thursday as police fired teargas and clashed with demonstrators in the fourth day of so-called 'Forconi' (Pitchfork) anti-government protests in Italy. Protesters blame government mismanagement for Italy's continuing economic crisis and oppose austerity-driven tax hikes, but have also taken to other anti-government causes, occupying roads, squares and railways, snarling traffic, blocking trains and disrupting pre-Christmas commerce. Demonstrations have spanned south to north since they began on Monday, with cities such as Milan, Turin and the Genoa area showing the greatest turnout. On Thursday, about a thousand demonstrators - mostly commuters across the French-Italian border, students and storekeepers - paralyzed traffic in the centre of Ventimiglia, west of Genoa. Students protested public education cuts. Cross-border commuters objected to the government's failure to renew tax breaks, forcing them to pay taxes in both France and Italy. Shopkeepers also protested taxes. In Milan, an unauthorized demonstration of about a hundred protestors for the third day occupied Milan's Piazza Loreto - where Benito Mussolini's corpse was hung by partisans in World War II.

Processions on Thursday continued in Turin.

A mix of students and other demonstrators tried to break a police line that prevented them from accessing the central Porta Susa train station, where protesters had occupied tracks and blocked trains earlier this week. Eight people were arrested there.

The Turin prosecutor's office asked for five of six protesters arrested earlier this week be kept in jail. The sixth - a truck driver who blocked traffic - has been placed under house arrest. In Veneto, four vehicles bearing the Italian flag slowed traffic on a major freeway by occupying the lanes in tandem and driving at reduced speed. Roman Mayor Ignazio Marino said he was "worried" that a large Forconi demonstration slated to take place in the Italian capital next week could turn violent. "It is very easy for violent people to infiltrate who transform a legitimate protest into a dangerous situation for the public and the city," Marino told journalists in New York. Pitchfork leaders had vowed a large-scale demonstration in Rome if MPs did not abstain from a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday. The government led by Premier Enrico Letta passed the vote in both houses. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday warned the Lower House that the protest movement could become dangerously rebellious against national and European institutions, particularly if it attracts violent groups which too often infiltrate non-violent activism.

During a briefing on the state of public order in Italy, Alfano warned that although protest is acceptable in a democracy, violence won't be tolerated but instead, met with force. "There is a violent face (to the movement) that has violated the laws: we understand the social unease, but at the time we do not have any hesitation in saying that we intend to defend the liberty and security of citizens," he said.

Pitchfork protest leader Mariano Ferro on Wednesday said his movement is being exploited by assorted rabble rousers and extreme right-wingers. "The real Pitchfork members are in Sicily, where the protest is peaceful. Unfortunately our movement is being associated with hooligans and subversives. We have nothing to do with them and we vehemently dissociate ourselves from the violence occurring in other parts of our country," Ferro told ANSA.