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Minister blames Rome riots on “professionals of violence”

December 17, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, Published: December 17 2010

Roberto Maroni, Italy’s hardline interior minister, has accused “professionals of violence” of instigating the worst rioting in Rome for more than 30 years and said security forces must be ready for more anti-government protests focused on education cuts.

A peaceful rally of some 20,000 students and workers last Tuesday erupted into urban warfare as groups of masked protesters smashed shops and banks, torched vehicles and set up burning barricades while trying to march on parliament where Silvio Berlusconi’s government had narrowly survived a vote of no confidence.

The unexpected ferocity of the violence shook student leaders and Italians in general, triggering a national debate over its root causes and drawing comparisons with social unrest that swept Italy in the late 1970s. Opposition deputies called on Mr Maroni to come before parliament amid allegations that members of the security forces had infiltrated the peaceful rally to incite the riots.

Mr Maroni forcefully rejected those accusations in the Senate on Friday, saying the riots were pre-planned by organised groups of what he called a minority of “professionals of violence”.

He defended the actions of the 1,500-strong police forces who had suffered some 100 injuries but had, he said, prevented even more serious consequences while allowing citizens to demonstrate peacefully. Mr Maroni also criticised the Rome judges who had released all of the 24 people detained that day, pending further investigations and trials.

City officials assessed the damage at €20m. Police and shopkeepers are braced for further trouble on Tuesday when students are considering holding further protests when the government’s package of education reforms and cuts comes before the Senate for approval.

On the street and in the media the rioters are known as the “black block” – groups of radical militants who stole the headlines in the “no-global” unrest that hit the G8 summit hosted by Italy in 2001 when a policeman killed one youth.

Mr Maroni said some of the rioters had come from radical leftwing “social centres” but did not elaborate.

Antimo Farro, professor of sociology at Rome’s La Sapienza university, who has studied such radical groups, stressed the rioters only numbered a maximum of some 200 on Tuesday. He said they attached themselves to protests and had no organisational connection with the student demonstrators whom he des-cribed as a movement driven by a desire for social change reacting against a “liberal” system delivering education cuts and unemployment.

The jobless rate among 15- to 24-year-old Italians is the highest in Europe and has soared to more than 28 per cent this year, reaching 36 per cent in the poorer south.

Anonymous postings on web forums reflect a growing sense of desperation among young Italians.

“It is absolutely useless to even think of explaining what happened in Rome as the effect of actions by a few lawless people,” one post read. “All the piazza wanted to show that not only is there a whole generation that does not have a future or political representation but that it won’t accept to suffer passively the abuses of a fake democracy.”

Another wrote: “The student revolts are against the education reforms and more in general against the Berlusconi government which, through a policy of cuts, is destroying the welfare state and culture.”

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