Tens of thousands of students and workers have rallied across
Italy to protest against austerity measures imposed by Prime
Minister Mario Monti's technocrat government.
Appointed a year ago when Italy came close to a Greek-style
debt crisis, Monti has pushed through painful tax increases
and spending cuts to try to rein in public finances at a time
when schools and universities say they desperately need more
"We need to fight for our rights. This government doesn't
represent us and these austerity measures and all the cuts
they've introduced are totally anti-democratic," said student
protester Tommaso Bernardi, attending a rally in Rome.
Far-right group Casapound marched through the capital Rome
later on Saturday (local time), chanting "Monti, go away!".
Anti-fascists staged a counter-demonstration in another part
"This government is making the nation starve and is
destroying the social welfare system," said Casapound
president Gianluca Iannone. "The weakest are hit hardest -
the disabled, students and single-income families."
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 November
14 that saw the police criticised for heavy-handed tactics.
Several thousand students and workers also rallied in other
cities including Naples, Florence and Catania.
No clashes were reported but the widespread protests
highlighted the scale of discontent in the recession-hit
country ahead of parliamentary elections next year.
"We need to change this country, starting from investments in
schools, universities and culture," said Michele Orezzi, a
university union coordinator, adding that Italy's education
system was "crumbling into pieces".
With youth unemployment at about 35 percent, more than three
times the national average, and Monti's austerity policies
biting into education spending, school pupils and university
students have taken an active role in anti-government
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
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.
Monti has defended his austerity plan, saying he believes his
technocrat 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 percent of