Police detained several people during the protest in Rome after about 100 people threw rocks, bottles and eggs at officers guarding the finance ministry (pictured).
The police then charged and chased the demonstrators into side streets. Protesters also managed to smash in the window of a branch of UniCredit bank, Italy’s biggest lender, and the hacker group Anonymous took down several institutional websites to coincide with the rally. Organizers said that about 70,000 people had taken part, though police put the number at closer to 50,000.
“We are laying siege to the city!” a group of students chanted as they marched through Rome, while others waved rainbow peace flags and held up banners from a variety of leftist movements.
Italy has struggled to shake off a two-year recession that has pushed unemployment to record levels, shut down thousands of businesses and forced many young people to leave the country. The 2014 budget unveiled on Tuesday by Prime Minister Enrico Letta has become a focal point of discontent, with unions complaining about freezes on public sector salaries and what they call an insufficient easing of the tax burden on workers. Youth unemployment sits at an all time high of 40.1 percent.
The demonstration in Rome brought together various groups including migrant rights advocates, campaigners for affordable housing and protesters against a new high-speed rail link in the Alps. Some of the protesters had camped out overnight on Piazza San Giovanni square following a trade union demonstration and transport strike on Friday.
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“We are protesting a one-way austerity that is bringing the country to its knees,” said Piero Bernocchi from Italy’s Cobas trade union group. “And it hasn’t achieved what it was meant to by bringing down debt,” he added, noting that “meanwhile politicians continue with their privileges.”
Ahead of the protest, police had seized potential weapons including chains, helmets, clubs and cobblestones and detained 14 people at the border with France. According to local media reports, police also deployed at least 4,000 officers.
Meanwhile in Lisbon thousands of protesters boarded around 400 buses rented especially to get around an Interior Ministry ban on marching on foot across the city’s famous April 25 Bridge. In Porto, the capital of the northern part of the country, organizers said that between 50,000 and 60,000 people had take part in a protest there, but police put the number at 25,000.
“Government out!” and “Liars, liars, we want new elections!” protesters shouted, voicing exasperation over an austerity program in place in Portugal for over two years as part of its bailout deal.
Contested measures in Portugal include a plan to cut civil service salaries by between 2.5 and 12 percent, as well as to reduce pensions for former public employees by 10 percent. The cuts would not apply for salaries or pension payments below 600 euros ($820) gross a month.
“This is a great day of struggle,” said Armenio Carlos, secretary general of the CGTP, a trade union confederation close to the Communist party.