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L’Aquila protestors clash with police

July 8, 2010

By Marcantonio Piredda and Guy Dinmore
Italians protesting against the government’s response to last year’s earthquake in the city of L’Aquila clashed with riot police in central Rome on Wednesday as several thousand people were prevented from marching on parliament and Silvio Berlusconi’s residence.

Blocked outside Villa Grazioli, the prime minister’s residence, demonstrators shouted “Shame” and “Fool”. With traffic in chaos, clashes also took place on the main street leading to the prime minister’s offices and parliament. Two or three people were reported injured and Massimo Cialente, mayor of L’Aquila, complained he was kicked and shoved by police.

While the violence was not excessive, the protests were a fresh embarrassment for Mr Berlusconi who has presented the rescue and reconstruction efforts after the April, 2009, quake as a symbol of the government’s “can do” image.

Survivors of the quake, which claimed 300 lives, also vented their anger against a suspected ring of businessmen and officials currently under investigation over government reconstruction tenders. In one police wiretap, leaked to the media, a businessman is overheard laughing, shortly after L’Aquila collapsed, at the prospect of new contracts.

Guido Bertolaso, head of the government’s Civil Protection agency which coordinated the rescue work, is under investigation for suspected corruption related to work carried out on the G-8 summit which Mr Berluconi moved last year to a police barracks outside L’Aquila. Mr Bertolaso denies the allegations.

Demonstrators complained that reconstruction of the medieval city centre had not begun and protested against government plans in its austerity package to reimpose taxes on the quake-affected region that had been suspended.

Some protestors got through to the square outside parliament where they were met by opposition politicians, greeted initially with jeering whistles.

“We have to organise resistance,” Antonio di Pietro, leader of the small Italy of Values party, “because the path of social revolt is at the gates of a deaf and blind government.”

Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the main opposition Democrats, voiced his support for their demands for a special levy on all Italians to help pay for reconstruction.

Giulio Tremonti, finance minister and architect of the austerity package which goes before the senate on Thursday, later suggested at a press conference that the freeze on tax payments for the quake zone might be extended.

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