(AP) ROME — Italian police fired tear gas and water cannons Saturday in Rome as violent protesters turned a demonstration against corporate greed into a riot, smashing shop and bank windows, torching cars and hurling bottles.
The protest in the Italian capital, which left dozens injured, was part of the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations against capitalism and austerity measures that went global Saturday.
Tens of thousands nicknamed “the indignant” marched in major cities across Europe, as protests that began in New York linked up with long-running demonstrations against government cost-cutting and failed financial policies in Europe.
Heavy smoke billowed into the air in downtown Rome as a small group broke away from the main demonstration and wreaked havoc in streets close to the Colosseum.
Clad in black with their faces covered, protesters threw rocks, bottles and incendiary devices at banks and Rome police in riot gear. Some protesters had clubs, others had hammers. They destroyed bank ATMs, set trash bins on fire and assaulted at least two news crews from Sky Italia.
TV footage showed police in riot gear charging the protesters and firing water cannons at them. Several police forces and protesters were injured, including one man trying to stop the protesters from throwing bottles. TV footage showed a young woman with blood covering her face, while the ANSA news agency said one man had lost two fingers when a firecracker exploded.
In the city’s St. John in Lateran square, police vans came under attack, with protesters hurling rocks and cobblestones and smashing the vehicles. One police van was set ablaze, but the two people inside were able to abandon the vehicle. Peaceful demonstrators who could not leave the square climbed up the staircase outside the Basilica, one of the oldest in Rome.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno blamed the violence on “a few thousand thugs from all over Italy, and possibly from all over Europe.” He said some Rome museums were forced to close down because of the violence.
Some protesters also trashed offices of the Defense Ministry and set them on fire, causing the roof to collapse, reports said.
Police were out in force as up to 100,000 protesters had been expected a day after Premier Silvio Berlusconi barely survived a confidence vote in Parliament. Italy, which has a national debt ratio second only to Greece in the 17-nation eurozone, is rapidly becoming a focus of concern in Europe’s debt crisis.
“People of Europe: Rise Up!” read one banner in Rome. Some peaceful demonstrators turned against the violent group and tried to stop them, hurling bottles, Sky Italia and ANSA said. Others fled, scared by the raw violence.
ANSA said four people from an anarchist group were arrested early Saturday morning, with police seizing helmets, anti-gas masks, clubs and hundreds of bottles from their car.
Elsewhere, bright autumn sunshine and a social media campaign brought out thousands across Europe.