Rome anti-austerity demonstrators camp out in piazza

Oct. 22, 2013 at 12:02 AM
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ROME, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Italian anti-austerity demonstrators say they will remain camped at a piazza in central Rome until a Tuesday meeting with the country's housing minister.

The leaders of the protest, which saw an estimated 50,000 people march through Rome Saturday demanding affordable housing and an end to austerity measures, said demonstrators would stay in tents at the Porta Pia at least until Tuesday, when they were scheduled to speak with Italian Infrastructure and Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi, broadcaster RAI reported.

"We will maintain a garrison of tents until the meeting with the Minister Lupi Tuesday, when there will be a new event to make our voices heard," Luca Fagiano, a member of the Movement for the Right to Housing, said Sunday. "A movement of movements was born here today."

Police clashed with masked protesters Saturday when the massive march against austerity measures and economic conditions briefly turned violent.

At least 100 protesters wearing hoods or motorcycle helmets hurled flares and bottles at police guarding the economy ministry building, The Daily Telegraph (Britain) reported. The protesters, beaten back by police, set fire to garbage cans on the side streets.

The protest came after a one-day transportation worker strike that left many Roman workers stranded or stuck in traffic jams after public employees walked off the job for much of the day to protest layoffs and wages.

Fifteen people were arrested during the clashes, which lasted about 10 minutes, with two police officers injured, but Sunday passed without incident as a group of the protesters set up tents at Porta Pia.

Organizers said the Tuesday meeting with Lupi would be focused on emergency housing, eliciting a round of applause in the piazza.

The scene in the piazza Sunday included protesters playing music, playing an improvised game of soccer in the street and eating sandwiches, the broadcaster reported. Banners in the square sported messages such as "Take back the city" and "Stop evictions, evictions, foreclosures."

One young demonstrator, identified as Diana from Milan, criticized press coverage of the Saturday demonstration, saying it focused only the brief violent outbursts and not on its message of the need for affordable housing and painful cuts to social programs.

"Except for a few violent incidents, the parade yesterday was intended to draw attention on the emergency housing in Rome, Milan and other major cities. All the newspapers instead have focused on the clashes. For example, I was at the parade and I hardly noticed the clashes," she told RAI.

"In general, they tend to exaggerate the clashes, while they do not pay attention on the motivations of the parade, which is the right to housing, political refugees who are left to themselves and the various territorial disputes," added demonstrator Jacopo di Torino.

The weekend clashes, however, came at a price of millions of dollars in lost business, Giuseppe Roscioli, president of General Confederation of Trade and Tourism of Rome told Corriere della Sera.

"For many businesses these days of demonstrations have turned into an economic disaster, including those who have lost half a day's profits to the closings," he said. "I estimate an overall decline in sales of about $2.7 million."

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