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In Photos: The Battle Against Austerity Hits Rome

Even with PM Renzi taking the reins, nothing has changed according to protesters — one of the underlying reasons of discontent.

by Leonardo Bianchi
Apr 14 2014, 7:20pm

Photo by Riccardo De Luca

This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.

On April 12, an array of parties and political groups belonging to Italy's far left paraded angrily through the streets of Rome. They'd gathered to protest against what they feel are destabilizing austerity measures brought in by the new Italian coalition government led by Democratic Party leader, Matteo Renzi.

The demonstrators have been particularly enraged by something called the “Jobs Act,” which Renzi believes will simplify the country's labor system and cut unemployment. Unfortunately, it seems he wishes to do this by eliminating some workers' rights that make businesses less inclined to hire employees on a full-time basis.

There's also a new housing bill, which seeks to deny squatters rights to certain public services.

Clashes erupt during anti-austerity protests in Rome. Read more here.

According to the media, the nationwide demonstration — dubbed “Social Movements Spring” — was attended mostly by “house occupiers and squatters, migrants and young temporary workers, students and activists.”

Right in front of the Ministry of Infrastructure building in Porta Pia, central Rome, protesters had set up a small camp to prepare for the demonstration.

Thousands of Italians staged an anti-austerity protest in Rome on April 12.

Italy’s new anti-torture law isn’t quite up to scratch. Read more here.

When I arrived there at around 3PM, the atmosphere was tense. Earlier that morning, it was reported that 80 youths had been arrested for possessing weapons and other "dangerous" objects. The movement's Twitter page, however, claimed that those detained were "right here in the square with us."

Depending on who you believe, anywhere between 12,000 and 20,000 protesters began their march at 4PM.

On my right, I caught sight of a banner from the Committee in Support of the Communist Resistance hanging from a tree. "Socialism is the future of humanity!" it read.

Monitored by an impressive number of police, the parade wended its way to the Ministry of Finance headquarters, where everyone celebrated by pelting the cops with eggs and oranges.

A little later, a group broke away from the major bloc and headed towards Vittorio Veneto Street, in order to "besiege" the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.

The protesters throw eggs and oranges at police.

Thousands of Italians staged an anti-austerity protest in Rome on April 12.

Protesters threw eggs, bottles and firecrackers at the police, who for a while stood still without reacting. Meanwhile, those at the end of the demo dropped their caps, goggles and gas masks, while others put on blue windbreakers and got to fighting the police. I'm still unsure about the meaning of the blue windbreakers; it's something I've never seen at an Italian demonstration.

Nevertheless, the mainstream Italian media has already taken to calling them the "blue bloc."

The standoff lasted for about 20 minutes. The first line of demonstrators launched smoke bombs and fireworks, to which the police responded with tear gas and a full baton charge, encountering little real resistance.

It only takes a few seconds because the atmosphere changes abruptly.

No one was able to escape the second police charge: anarchists, peaceful protesters, families, passers-by — everyone was at their mercy. I covered my face to save my tear ducts from the gas and tried to avoid a beating. In front of me, a middle-aged lady was knocked to the ground and was rescued by other protesters.

I saw a mother rip her son from her arms and take refuge in a side street.

Several people fell and were arrested by the police.

The square empties quickly. The sidewalks are completely clogged.

The chief of police, Alessandro Pansa, described the baton charges as "pre-emptive." Nothing about the above looks very pre-emptive to me.

The main street had been turned into a battlefield covered with blood, shoes, scarves and other items. A rumour began to circulate that the police had “chopped off a man’s hand". Later, I discovered that the victim had in fact been injured by a firecracker he was trying to throw, and was a 47-year-old Peruvian named Juan Zabaleta, who lives with his family in an occupied building.

By that point, the demonstration was pretty much over. The procession returned to Porta Pia with no moments of tension.

A certain weariness was in the air and the strong reaction by the police had left its mark.

Dozens of police and protesters had been injured (one of whom severely), while six people were arrested.

The demonstration has split the Italian public. Some people really didn't like seeing Vittorio Veneto Street — "one of Rome's most famous streets" – being "harassed and vandalized." The Minister of Infrastructure, Maurizio Lupi, declared the protesters to be "criminals and villains:" "After facing the umpteenth clash in Rome, we must have the courage to say that whoever occupies a house without authorization is committing a crime," he declared.

Rome's Mayor, Ignazio Marino, warned of "a violence that is [...] capable of striking the whole city."

People weren't slow to criticize the police, either. Journalist Fiorenza Sarzani, from the newspaper Corriere della Sera, argued, "What should concern us is the behaviour of the police, who allowed the protesters to stay way over 15 minutes in Vittorio Veneto Street and then rushed the crowd instead of clearing them out.

This is odd behavior, especially due to the fact that in such a narrow space, with hundreds of people pressed up beneath the Ministry, it could have ended up in the worst of scenarios."

The leaders of the movement have declared that April 12 is just "the beginning of the protest against the Renzi Government" — a protest that "must grow" within the months to come. It seems that Italy's new Prime Minister will receive many other unwanted visits to his front doorstep, like the one on Saturday.