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Ongoing protests, strikes bring chaos to Italy

Neo-Fascist leader jailed for tearing down EU flag

16 December, 20:20
Ongoing protests, strikes bring chaos to Italy (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, December 16 - Ongoing austerity protests and a national transportation strike brought chaos to Italy on Monday as leaders in the anti-government Pitchfork Movement vowed to bring their demonstrations to Rome later in the week. Major cities such as Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin experienced serious traffic jams during a morning-long strike called by transit-workers' unions. Meanwhile anti-austerity protests launched last week carried on throughout the country despite some setbacks within the various groups involved. A leader in the neo-Fascist group CasaPound was sentenced Monday to three months in jail and fined 100 euros for tearing down a European Union flag from the EU's Rome offices over the weekend. Simone Di Stefano, the national vice-president of the club and fledgling political party, was arrested Saturday during a snap demonstration after he erected a ladder, scaled the EU building and removed the EU flag in an attempt to replace it with an Italian tricolor. CasaPound and extreme-right-wing movement Forza Nuova were demonstrating outside the courthouse as it made its ruling in the case Monday. Both groups have participated in the Pitchfork demonstrations, which originally consisted primarily of disgruntled truckers and farmers and has since grown to represent anti-government and anti-European sentiment of all stripes. Some leaders in the Movement have blamed "subversive fringes" from the extreme right for hijacking protests and spreading violence, looting and destroying public property. On Friday a spokesman from the loose-knit Movement raised suspicions of an extreme-right agenda when he blamed Jewish bankers for "enslaving" recession-weary Italy. On Monday the Movement was showing signs of losing momentum. Local Pitchfork groups in the Sicily and Veneto regions announced they would not be attending a large-scale demonstration scheduled Wednesday in Rome for fear of violence. Still, Movement leader Lucio Chiavegato was undeterred. He acknowledged evidence of a "violent fringe" marching alongside his Movement, but said the group's "eight million demonstrators" made it impossible to account for everyone. Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said the city was prepared for any outcome during protests and would not tolerate protesters blocking traffic in the way that has typified demonstrations elsewhere in the country. "The city has no intention of its soil being occupied by tents in places like Piazza del Popolo, especially not right before Christmas," said Marino. "We will not tolerate unauthorized sit-ins of public property nor violence".

Pitchfork leaders were still discussing the form that protests should take in Rome. One faction said it would not "march" in the city, but would "take a peaceful and quiet walk", adding it was studying other forms of unconventional protest, possibly to take place over the course of two days.