Hundreds of Masked Protesters Clashed with Riot Police on the Austrian-Italian Border

Scenes of tear gas clouds and riot police are becoming commonplace in Europe, as anger over immigration and border issues continues to heat up across the continent.
May 7, 2016, 9:00pm
Italian riot police clash with left activists and anarchists protesters, during a rally against the Austrian government's planned re-introduction of border controls at the Brenner pass, Italy-Austria, May 7, 2016. (Christina Bruna/EPA)

Hundreds of masked protesters assembled on the Italian-Austrian border on Saturday and clashed violently with authorities during a demonstration against the Austrian government's plans to erect a fence at the Brenner Crossing to "channel" people — asylum seekers — many of who arrived on Italian shores by boat from Libya.

The types of images that emerged on Saturday — heavily armed riot police making their way through clouds of smoke from the teargas they fired, clashing with angry protesters who were throwing stones and firecrackers, in an idyllic, snowcapped Alpine setting — are becoming commonplace as anger over immigration and border issues continues to heat up across Europe, fueled by the ongoing refugee crisis and Islamophobia.

Anarquistas resisten en — Revolución Real Ya (@RRYrevolucion)May 7, 2016

— Fabrizio Di Nucci (@sesaph)May 7, 2016

Pro refugee protester getting arrested at today's demo in the Italian-Austrian border. — Lorena de la Cuesta (@LorenadlaCuesta)May 7, 2016

Both Italy and Austria are countries within Europe's borderless Schengen zone. The Brenner crossing is a popular route that refugees and migrants have taken on their journeys to northern Europe.

Video footage filmed by bystanders shows riot police in heavy gear making their way through clouds of smoke at the Brenner railway station, with the Alps in the background.

Now: Pro refugee protest at the border between Italy and Austria turns violent. pic.twitter.com/mlfLiS1flH
— Lorena de la Cuesta (@LorenadlaCuesta) May 7, 2016

Two Italian police officers were injured on Saturday, the head of the local Italian police union, Fulvio Coslovi, told Reuters. Coslovi said that about 10 demonstrators were in custody. Austrian police estimated that there were as many as 600 protesters present.

It was the third violent demonstration to take place at the Brenner Pass in just over a month.

According to Corriera della Sera, an Italian newspaper, the protest was organized by an anarchist group in northern Italy that was calling on demonstrators to join them from other countries.

Wolfgang Sokota, the Austrian Interior Minister, says he expects as many as a million migrants to cross the Mediterranean from Libya this year. Italian estimates are lower.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has taken the side of German Chancellor Angela Merkel by sharply criticizing Austria's plan to erect a border fence.

Meanwhile, thousands of far-right protesters assembled in Berlin under the slogan "Merkel must go," demanding the German chancellor's resignation for her "open-door policy" which has allowed for more than a million refugees fleeing war and conflict to settle in Germany in the last year. Protesters gathered outside Berlin's main train station, waving anti-Islamic posters and chanting "Wir sind das Volk" — which means "We are the people" — a slogan which was originally associated with the reunification of Germany and later appropriated by the Islamaphobic Pegida movement.

#bnf0705 #merkelmussweg #washingtonplatz #berlin pepper spray, tear gas, arrests, glass bottles being thrown clashes pic.twitter.com/vE5pPclqKb
— Alex Poucher (@alexpoucher) May 7, 2016

The protesters were reportedly hugely outnumbered by counter protesters. There were about 1,800 right wing protest participants, and reportedly around 7,500 left wing counter protesters. A police spokesman told the Guardian that scuffles broke out between the two groups, and riot police had deployed tear gas.

In Poland, an estimated quarter of a million people marched through Warsaw to voice their support for the European Union and express their opposition to the new anti-immigration, "Euro-skeptical" government which came to power last October.