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Italy braced for violence at planned anti-US base rally

DPA | February 15, 2007

Rome - Italy's government fears that a rally planned for Saturday in the northern city of Vicenza to protest against the expansion of a local United States military base may spark violent clashes with the police.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi has expressed hopes that the mass meeting would take place 'without tension and aggressions.'

His interior minister, Giuliano Amato, has warned parliament that the rally might be infiltrated by extremists seeking to unite sectors of society that feel 'hostile towards law enforcement agents.'

Tens of thousands of pacifists and left-wing militants who oppose the expansion of the US Ederle base are expected to attend the rally. They are to be watched by an estimated 5,000 police officers in riot gear.

A similar protest held in Vicenza on December 2 did not erupt in violence. But security experts fear that a series of recent events could produce a potentially explosive cocktail of dissent on Saturday.

These include the arrest earlier this week of 15 left-wing terror suspects, police raids against squatters in connection with that probe and a government crackdown on football hooligans after a policeman was killed during clashes with fans in Sicily.

Graffiti expressing solidarity towards the arrested terrorists have appeared on a wall outside a factory in nearby Padua while unidentified people have attempted to set fire to the front door of a police chief involved in the investigation.

On Sunday, hardcore football fans in Rome and other Serie A stadiums jeered or turned their backs to the pitch in scorn while a minute's silence in honour of the slain policeman was observed.

Bracing themselves for the worst, many shops in Vicenza have decided to remain shut while local officials have closed down schools for the day. The city's local US military radio station was urging US residents to spend Saturday away from Vicenza or to remain indoors.

Italy witnessed massive street clashes between anti-globalization activists and the police during a 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. The clashes devastated the city and one militant was shot dead by a policeman.

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