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Anti-austerity 'Pitchfork' protests spread

Grillo tells police 'don't protect politicians'

10 December, 20:15
Anti-austerity 'Pitchfork' protests spread (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, December 10 - Thousands of protesters joined truckers in Italy on Tuesday as they entered a second day of strikes as part of the so-called Pitchfork (Forconi) Movement, blocking or slowing transportation in a number of cities in Italy. The nationwide wildcat strike protesting heavy taxes, high fuel costs and alleged government mismanagement has stretched from the north to the south of Italy, fueled in part by anti-establishment leader Beppe Grillo, who went so far as to urge police to join the burgeoning movement and stop protecting Italy's politicians, hit by a string of pork-barrel and perks scandals and accused of failing to help the swelling numbers of 'new poor' in the country's longest postwar recession.

"I ask you not to protect these politicians any more," said the populist former comedian, whose 5-Star Movement (M5S) stormed to third place in February's general election in a huge protest vote.

Grillo said the angry demos, which piggy-backed a truckers' protest and also drew far-right groups, "could be the start of a fire or the harbinger of future and perhaps uncontrollable revolts". He said the Forconi's rise was the result of "people exasperated at their living conditions and the arrogance, deafness and couldn't-care-less attitude of a political class that won't give up its privileges". Until now Italy has not seen big grass-roots and street-level anti-austerity and anti-euro protest movements like Spain's Indignados or the various Occupy groups because the M5S has siphoned off public anger at nose-diving living standards and widespread corruption.

The protests have continued to bring traffic to a crawl in Grillo's home city of Genoa, as well as other northeastern cities at the movement's epicenter, such as Turin, Savona and Imperia. A Senator for the Piedmont region, where Turin is located, appealed to Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and Premier Enrico Letta for more security forces, and warned the situation "is becoming a true emergency".

"Take into account that Turin is the epicentre of this subversive protest with disturbing traits. This can not be faced with 150 men," said Stefano Esposito, who is with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD). In Turin, two separate processions disrupted transportation and commerce, when Pitchfork demonstrators and hundreds of students protested simultaneously. Shopkeepers complained they had to lower their shutters to protect themselves against passing demonstrators. Leader of the Pitchfork Movement Mariano Ferro told ANSA the strike would go on for days before closing it with a descent on the government in Rome.

"It is not time to go to Rome. It is necessary to live through a few more days of passion, and make Italians' adrenaline rise," Ferro told ANSA in a telephone call. Another protest leader, Danilo Calvani, said the movement will bring millions to the streets of the nation's capital next week if MPs don't abstain from a planned confidence vote in parliament Wednesday. "It will be a peaceful siege and we will share the route with law enforcement, but we are determined to stay until the politicians leave," Calvani said.

Pitchfork leaders attributed the violence in Turin on Monday to "four hooligans, but the vast majority (of the protests) were peaceful". Police fired teargas at protesters who threw rocks, and 14 policemen were injured in demonstrations by the end of the day. Police in Turin on Monday also removed their anti-riot helmets after blocking an assault of 50 troublemakers on Turin's tax revenue agency in a gesture many, including demonstrators, interpreted as a sign of solidarity. Police in Bolzano also doffed helmets in an assault on the local tax agency office, as well as in Genoa, when demonstrators passed the city's police headquarters. Police unions UGL, SIULP, and Grillo claim police were acting in solidarity with protesters. "We share and applaud the gesture of those policemen who took off their helmets in a sign of solidarity with demonstrators who peacefully showed their malaise at the grave crisis that Italy is going through," said Valter Mazzetti, national secretary of the state police union UGL. Meanwhile Bolzano and Turin police headquarters called the gesture normal operating procedure. Turin police headquarters said police removal of riot gear under the circumstances was "normal behavior" linked with "defusing tension and the needs of public order". In all three incidents demonstrators gave a long applause to police. Meanwhile the interior minister condemned violence and vandalism surrounding the protests. "The line in the sand is respect for law and order and democracy, meaning we'll support those who protest peacefully, but it must be done in accordance with the law. We won't allow our cities to go up in flames," he said. Alfano also denounced demonstrators swarming stores and shopping malls, forcing shoppers out and scaring owners into closing. In the southern town of Molfetta, an Ipercoop supermarket and the Fashion District mall were among stores where shoppers fled as protesters charged inside chanting anti-government slogans. A clerk at the Mongolfiera shopping center said "demonstrators told us to hurry up and close, and said they'd be back tomorrow".

Alfano called "such threats unacceptable".

Up north, Piedmont union leaders for CGIL, CISL and UIL on Tuesday distanced themselves from the protest movement which has become particularly acute in their home territory. "The hardship of families, of workers, of the unemployed is palpable, but the demonstrators like those yesterday in Turin don't do anything, because they don't have proposals, they don't have representation. They look only for chaos and are not clear because they don't have the background," said Alberto Tomasso, Giovanna Ventura and Gianni Cortese, regional heads for CGIL, CISL and UIL, respectively, in a joint statement. The union leaders on Tuesday presented reasons for staging a joint demonstration on December 14 against the 2014 budget bill currently in parliament.