Sunday, October 26, 2008

AFP: Italians flood Rome in anti-Berlusconi protest

ROME (AFP) — Italy's opposition staged a giant rally in Rome Saturday, claiming 2.5 million people had taken to the streets to protest against tycoon Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government.

In a demonstration organised by Walter Veltroni's centre-left Democratic party (PD), left-wing activists marched to the Circus Maximus under a sea of red and green opposition flags proclaiming that "another Italy is possible."

Veltroni, whose PD is riding low in the polls after its defeat to Berlusconi's new conservative People of Freedom (PDL) in May, called the protest the biggest in recent years.

"From what I can see and from the information I am receiving, this is the biggest protest organised by a party in a number of years," said Veltroni at the rally.

"It is proof that democracy is alive and well... We could never have imagined such a large turnout," he added.

A police source later however put the number at about 200,000.

Veltroni heaped scorn on Berlusconi, a controversial self-made billionaire and media mogul, whose conservative policies and legal amendments to avoid prosecution for alleged corruption have sparked indignation.

"Democracy is not run by the board of a company," Veltroni said, swiping at Berlusconi's credentials to administer the country and saying he was "totally incompetent to face the grave social and economic crisis."

"Remember another Italy is possible," Veltroni added.

The 53-year-old who served as Rome's mayor evoked the plight of Roberto Saviano, author of a best-selling mafia expose who now fears for his life and has been living in hiding, as another example of what he called Berlusconi's incapacity.

"We are all behind Roberto Saviano," he said.

Saviano, 28, whose book "Gomorrah" has been translated into 42 languages, has lived under police protection for two years. The screen version of "Gomorrah" won second prize at the 2008 Cannes film festival and is now in the running for an Oscar.

One demonstrator warned that Berlusconi could distort the figure of the protest.

"Even if we are one million people protesting today, Berlusconi will say there was only one hundred of us. And he will be able to do that because he controls so much of the media," said Livio Giorgi.

Another protester, Maria Turri, who was demonstrating against the government's plans to cut the education budget, carried a placard saying: "Hello children... Your mother is protesting for you!"

"My children have no guarantees for the future. We do not want a US-style society where we cannot afford the schools. The government must invest more money into state schools instead of giving it to the banks," she told AFP.

Gianni Mazzoni from the northern city of Modena said while Italy needed to be modernised, Berlusconi's method was clearly all wrong.

"Italy needs to modernise certain services like schools, universities and health but not in the way that Berlusconi wants to," he said.

"He just wants to dismantle the public services, close all the schools and kick out the teachers. Eight billion euros less for education?" he thundered.

Unions allege that the government plans to do away with more than 100,000 teaching positions between now and 2012.

The protest follows a similar demonstration by left-wing activists earlier this month against Berlusconi's conservative policies and his avoiding prosecution for alleged corruption.
[Photos: AFP]

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