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Riots break out in Rome

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Demonstrators fight with police officers during anti-government clashes in Rome today.

Protesters set fire to cars, threw paint and smoke bombs at the Italian parliament and clashed with riot police today in Rome’s worst violence for years after prime minister Silvio Berlusconi survived a confidence vote.

Via del Corso, the main street stretching through the historic centre, near Mr Berlusconi’s office and home to some of the capital’s smartest shops, was a battle scene of smoke, teargas and bloodied faces.

Smoke rose from the Pincio Hill above the famed Spanish Steps as protesters set fire to private cars, overturned heavy trash bins and prevented fire crews from putting out the flames.

At least 50 people were injured, including several policemen, and more than 40 protesters were detained, police said. . The protesters were mostly students but also included workers and immigrants. Television pictures showed dozens of people throwing stones at police, with officers in riot gear beating the protesters back and chasing them among narrow cobblestoned alleys.

“While they are doing their little game in parliament, we are heading towards catastrophe. Where is my future? I don’t feel represented by this government, I don’t feel represented in my own country,” said 19-year old Marco, a university student.

The protesters hoping that Mr Berlusconi would fall had wanted to stage a victory demonstration but he survived the no-confidence motion in parliament by a mere three votes. He would have had to resign if he had lost.

Shops were forced to close as protesters, many of them wearing ski masks, overturned tables of sidewalk restaurants, flower vases and parked motorcycles. The protesters smashed bank windows, destroyed several cash point machines and threw chairs and tables at police vehicles.

In the past several weeks, students have been protesting throughout Italy against austerity measures and university reforms planned by the centre-right government, matching similar demonstrations in other countries including Britain.

Students also blocked Palermo airport in Sicily and briefly occupied the stock market building in Milan.

“They haven’t done anything. For universities nothing has been done and we are in a situation which is getting worse every day,” said university student Valerio Zampani.

For many Italians the latest political drama adds to the despondency hanging over their country, but others welcomed the outcome of the vote. “I think it’s better like this because otherwise it wouldn’t have worked. At this point in time we need a government that can keep our head above water,” said Rome resident Giuliano Marroti.


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