Berlusconi vows to punish rioters after Rome protest

Italian journalist Francesco Cirillo at the San Giovanni Piazza said much damage had been caused in central Rome

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised to punish rioters after a peaceful mass rally in Rome descended into street battles.

Riot police fought militant protesters who had joined the crowds taking part in a global protest against banks and politicians in the city centre.

At least 70 people were injured, three of them seriously, property was damaged and cars and bins set on fire.

Most of the other protests in 82 countries passed off peacefully.

Inspired by the Occupy Wall St movement and Spain's "Indignants", demonstrators turned out from Asia to Europe and back to New York for an event organisers said on their website was aimed at initiating "global change".

Police arrested 45 people in New York's Times Square after protesters demonstrated there.

Masked militants

Mr Berlusconi, who narrowly survived a vote of confidence in his centre-right government's economic policy on Friday, called the violence a "worrying signal" and said the perpetrators "must be found and punished".

Eyewitness

The protests in Rome began very peacefully. Tensions rose when fringe protesters became violent and destructive. I saw 20 or 30 near the Colosseum. They had covered their faces with black scarves and ski hats, and looked like they were looking for confrontation.

The police were firing a lot of tear gas and I was right in the middle of it - it was quite unbearable. I left the area and went to the San Giovanni. I saw more agitators here, maybe 100. The police were also using tear gas and water cannon in the area. The majority of protesters who were quite peaceful were confused and scared. Some even began yelling at the agitators.

Between police and protesters there were no winners today, no good feelings of something accomplished. After today's events everybody feels quite defeated.

I joined the protest because of the current political, economic and social climate in Italy. Nothing is changing in Italy at the moment and people feeling powerless.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno blamed the violence on "a few thousand thugs from all over Italy, and possibly from all over Europe, who infiltrated the demonstration".

Tens of thousands of people had turned out to demonstrate peacefully in the city, gathering under anti-austerity banners, close to the landmark ruins of the Colosseum.

However militants dressed in black, some of them wearing balaclavas and crash helmets, soon appeared in the crowd and began attacking property.

Cars were burnt, and cash dispensers, banks and shops were attacked, with windows smashed. One protester could be seen wielding an uprooted traffic sign.

Other protesters tried to restrain the rioters but the violence spread and riot police moved in with tear gas and water cannon, making baton charges, as the rioters hurled stones and bottles.

In the fighting, a police armoured vehicle was set on fire but the occupants managed to escape. At least 30 police officers were among the injured.

Speaking from Paris before news of the violence, the chief of the Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi, expressed sympathy with the protesters.

"Young people are right to be indignant," he was quoted by Italian media as saying.

"They're angry against the world of finance. I understand them... We adults are angry about the crisis. Can you imagine people who are in their twenties or thirties?"

Mr Draghi is set to take over as head of the European Central Bank (ECB) next month.

The ECB office in Frankfurt, Germany, saw a peaceful protest by thousands of people on Saturday.

Day of rallies

Madrid also saw a huge rally on Saturday but the atmosphere there appeared to be festive.

Tens of thousands of people filled central Madrid on Saturday evening, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports from the Spanish capital.

People of all ages, from pensioners to children, and many of the young unemployed, gathered on Puerta del Sol Square, where the "Indignant" movement was launched in May. Organisers put the numbers at half a million.

In other developments

  • Hundreds of protesters clashes with police on horseback in Times Square in New York and thousand rally in downtown Washington DC
  • In Greece, about 2,000 people rallied outside parliament in Athens and a similar number reportedly turned out in the second city, Thessaloniki
  • At least 1,000 people demonstrated in London's financial district but were prevented by police from reaching the Stock Exchange, and five arrests were made
  • In Dublin, about 400 people marched to a hotel where an EU/IMF/ECB delegation involved in the country's ongoing financial bailout is staying, the Irish Times reports
  • Hundreds of people marched in New Zealand cities while in Sydney, Australia, some 2,000 people - including representatives of Aboriginal groups, communists and trade unionists - rallied outside the central Reserve Bank of Australia
  • "Occupy" protests were also held in South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong

Observers say that, while the original protesters in Spain had concrete demands such as seeking a cut in working hours to tackle unemployment, many "Occupy" protesters are vague in their demands.

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