25 Nov 2012

Thousands of Italians rally against austerity moves

2:36 pm on 25 November 2012

Tens of thousands of students and workers rallied across Italy on Saturday to protest against austerity measures imposed by Prime Minister Mario Monti's government.

Appointed a year ago when Italy came close to a Greek-style debt crisis, Mr Monti has pushed through tax increases and spending cuts to try to rein in public finances at a time when schools and universities say they desperately need more support, Reuters reports.

Rallies took place in the capital Rome, Naples, Florence, Catania and other cities, highlighting the scale of discontent in the recession-hit country ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

Far-right group Casapound also marched through Rome and anti-fascists staged a counter-demonstration in another part of town.

Police organised different routes and times for the rallies to reduce the risk of violence after scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators during protests on 14 November that saw the police criticised for heavy-handed tactics.

Mr Monti has defended his austerity plan, saying he believes his government will be remembered for having helped Italy pull itself out of a deep economic crisis without needing to resort to external aid.

Italy has been the European Union's most sluggish economy for more than a decade, fuelling investor concerns about its ability to bring down public debt of around 126% of output.

Education spending

With youth unemployment at about 35%, more than three times the national average, and the government's austerity policies biting into education spending, school pupils and university students have taken an active role in anti-government protests.

Much anger is focused on an education reform bill going through parliament that would give schools more autonomy and allow them to accept other sources of funding than the state. Protesters believe this is intended to encourage privatisation.

Students have occupied schools around Rome in recent weeks to express their anger and frustration at repeated funding cuts, chaining gates shut and camping inside classrooms.