Rome burns as Wall Street protests spread
Protesters burned cars in Rome and scuffled with police in London as anger boiled over Saturday in worldwide demonstrations against corporate greed and government cutbacks.The oubreaks of violence marred an overwhelmingly peaceful protest, inspired by America’s “Occupy Wall Street” and Spain’s “Indignants”, targeting 951 cities in 82 countries across the planet. Encompassing Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, it was the biggest show of power yet by a movement born on May 15 when a rally in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square sparked a worldwide movement.
In the largest single rally of the day, tens of thousands marched in Rome, which was under a security lockdown. Groups of protesters smashed shop and bank windows and set alight two cars near the Roman Forum as they headed to a large square in front of St John Lateran basilica for a rally, AFP reporters saw.
“Only One Solution: Revolution!” read one placard at the protest. One group carried a cardboard coffin with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s name on it.
Anger over unemployment and opposition to the financial elite hung over the protests, which coincided with a Paris meeting of G20 financial powers pre-occupied by the eurozone debt crisis.
“Young people are right to be indignant,” Bank of Italy chief Mario Draghi was reported by Italian media as saying in informal comments to journalists on the sidelines of the Paris talks.
“They’re angry against the world of finance. I understand them,” said the 64-year-old economist, adding: “We adults are angry about the crisis. Can you imagine people who are in their twenties or thirties?”
The demands and the sense of urgency among the activists varied widely across the world.
Scuffles broke out in London where about 800 people rallied in the financial district by Saint Paul’s Cathedral, raising banners saying: “Strike back!”; “No cuts!” and “Goldman Sachs is the work of the devil!”
Three lines of police, and one line at the rear on horseback, blocked them from heading to the London Stock Exchange and pushed back against lead marchers, some wearing masks.
“I am here today mainly as a sense of solidarity with the movememts that are going on around the world,” said Ben Walker, a 33-year-old teacher from the eastern English city of Norwich.
In Madrid, 100 people in one of a series of five marches set off for an evening rally in the emblematic Cibeles square from where they will proceed to Puerta del Sol for all-night rallies.
“The fight goes on!” they chanted at the start of a six-hour march from the southern suburb of Leganes to the centre of Madrid.
About 50 protesters gathered outside Africa’s biggest bourse, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, to voice concern over the country’s widening gap between rich and poor.
Other protests were staged in Zurich and Geneva, Athens, Brussels and Sarajevo.
As the day began, around 500 people gathered in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district to vent their anger at the inequities and excesses of free-market capitalism.
About 100 demonstrators in Tokyo also voiced fury at the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Another 600 demonstrators in Sydney set up camp outside Australia’s central bank, where the plight of refugees and Aboriginal Australians was added to the financial concerns.
Organisers of the worldwide protest, relying heavily on Facebook and Twitter, said demonstrations would be held in 951 cities across 82 countries in Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia and Africa.
In New York, where since September 17 several hundred people have occupied a small park in the financial district, organisers have called a rally in Times Square for 5:00 pm (2100 GMT).
The protesters declared victory Friday morning when New York authorities at the last minute postponed the evacuation of their camp.
But an impromptu celebration march to nearby Wall Street ended in scuffles and 14 arrests when protesters ignored police instructions to remain on the sidewalks so as not to impede traffic.
US police arrested about three dozen other protesters in Denver, Seattle and San Diego.
More than 100 authors, including Salman Rushdie and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Cunningham, have signed an online petition declaring their support for the protests.