Italy coalition: Thousands rally in Rome against cuts

Protester: "We want more representation and rights"

About 100,000 protesters, led by trade unionists, have rallied in the Italian capital Rome against the policies of the new coalition government.

Wielding red flags and placards, they urged the centre-left Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, to scrap austerity measures and focus on job creation.

Public trust in his fragile coalition with the centre-right is dropping, opinion polls suggest.

The country is experiencing its longest recession in more than 40 years.

National debt is now about 127% of annual economic output, second only to Greece in the eurozone.

Unemployment is at a record high of 11.5% - 38% for the under-25s.

Analysis

An estimated 100,000 people, including many of the young jobless, took part in the protest march, but there were some noteworthy absentees - the leaders of the left-wing Democratic Party, the party of Prime Minister Enrico Letta. The head of the metal worker's union, Maurizio Landini, taunted the party leadership, accusing them of being afraid of coming out on to the streets.

Mr Letta is faced with an almost impossible task - creating new jobs at a moment when the Italian economy is suffering one of its most serious recessions since the economic boom in the 1950s and 60s. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi almost daily threatens to withdraw his support from the fragile coalition.

Opinion polls suggest growing support for Mr Berlusconi, despite his dismal economic record, and lower and lower approval ratings for Mr Letta.

Before taking office, Mr Letta vowed to make job creation his priority, but critics are unhappy that he has focused on property tax reform.

The issues of social justice and poverty came up when German Chancellor Angela Merkel had talks with the new Pope at the Vatican on Saturday.

'Losing patience'

Organised by the metalworkers' union FIOM and the CGIL union, Saturday's peaceful march and rally drew supporters from across the country.

"We ask the government to change [former Prime Minister Mario] Monti's and [former Prime Minister Mario Silvio] Berlusconi's politics," said Maurizio Landini, leader of the FIOM.

"If they don't change, as the country asked for with its vote, we are going nowhere."

One of the protesters, Enzo Bernardis, told Reuters news agency: "We hope that this government will finally start listening to us because we are losing our patience."

Soon after being appointed, Mr Letta met other eurozone leaders to convey growing public unrest over austerity measures in Italy.

But the new prime minister has to maintain a delicate balance between the policies of his own supporters and those of the centre-right, led by Mr Berlusconi.

Italy's coalition was only formed after two months of post-election deadlock.

Merkel visit

Among the demonstrators in Rome were radical leftists.

A controversial poster of German Chancellor Angela Merkel could be seen at the rally A controversial poster of German Chancellor Angela Merkel could be seen

A controversial poster depicted Chancellor Merkel, who is seen as typifying austerity, in mock-Nazi uniform.

On Thursday, the Pope said in a speech that the global economic crisis had made life worse for millions in rich and poor countries.

Speaking after her private meeting with the pontiff, Mrs Merkel told reporters: "Crises have blown up because the rules of the social market have not been observed... It is true that economies are there to serve people and that has by no means always been the case in recent years."

Mrs Merkel said she and Pope Francis had spoken mainly about globalisation, the European Union and the role of Europe in the world.

"Pope Francis made it clear that we need a strong, fair Europe and I found the message very encouraging," she added.

While she is not a Catholic herself, Mrs Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran minister, leads a party with a strong Catholic component.

Chart showing youth unemployment for 15-25 year olds The youth unemployment rate in Italy stands at more than 36%.
Chart showing percentage of population aged over 65 Italy has the second highest proportion of over 65s in the EU.
Chart showing proportion of adults living with parents The percentage of young Italians leaving home to marry has halved in 20 years.

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