Anti-capitalist protests held in 951 cities worldwide
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Global demonstrations against financial institutions and government cutbacks saw hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in the world’s major cities Saturday. The protests were inspired by the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement in the U.S.
AFP - Protesters torched cars, smashed up banks and set fire to a military building in Rome in the worst violence of worldwide demonstrations against corporate greed and government cutbacks.
Tens of thousands took to the streets of the Italian capital for a march that turned violent and equal numbers rallied in Madrid and Lisbon, while Wikileaks founder Julian Assange joined angry demonstrators in London.
The protests were inspired by the "Occupy Wall Street" movement in the United States and the "Indignants" in Spain, targeting 951 cities in 82 countries across the planet in 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 that focused anger over unemployment and opposition to the financial elite.
"I think it is very moving that the movement that was born here has extended throughout the world. It was about time for people to rise up," said 24-year-old Carmen Martin as she marched towards Puerta del Sol.
In the Portuguese capital, where some 50,000 rallied, Mathieu Rego, 25, said: "We are victims of financial speculation and this austerity programme is going to ruin us. We have to change this rotten system."
The protests received unexpected support from Italian central bank governor Mario Draghi, a former executive at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs set to take over as president of the European Central Bank.
"They're angry against the world of finance. I understand them," he added, though expressing regrets at reports of violence.
More protests were staged in Amsterdam, Athens, Brussels, Geneva, Paris, Sarajevo and Zurich. Thousands also rallied across Canada and in New York and Washington.
Scuffles broke out in London, where about 800 people gathered in the financial district by St Paul's Cathedral, raising banners saying: "Strike back!" "No cuts!" and "Goldman Sachs is the work of the devil!"
Five people were arrested, three for assaulting police officers and two for public order offences, Scotland Yard said.
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.
"One of the reasons why we support what is happening here in 'Occupy London' is because the banking system in London is the recipient of corrupt money," Assange said from the steps of St Paul's, flanked by bodyguards.
Nearly 100 protesters were arrested as thousands marched in New York. Police on horseback clashed with protesters in busy Times Square in the evening, and one woman was injured.
In Miami, a city that rarely hosts mass demonstrations, at least 1,000 people marched downtown. The crowd included youth and retirees standing up against corporations, banks and war.
Over 10,000 Canadians blew bubbles, strummed guitars and chanted anti-corporate slogans at peaceful protests in cities across the country.
"I believe a revolution is happening," said 30-year-old Annabell Chapa, who brought her one-year-old son Jaydn along in a stroller to Toronto's Saint James Park.
In Mexico, Peru and Chile, thousands marched to protest what they slammed as an unfair financial system and stagnant unemployment.
The European Union also became a target for anger as the eurozone debt crisis continues, with some 9,000 protesters marching to the EU's headquarters in Brussels and rallying outside the ECB's headquarters in Frankfurt.
In Rome, the march quickly degenerated into running street battles between groups of hooded protesters and riot police who fired tear gas and water jets into the crowd amid a security lockdown in the Italian capital.
"Today is only the beginning. We hope to move forward with a global movement. There are many of us and we want the same things," said protester Andrea Muraro, a 24-year-old engineering student from Padua.
"Only One Solution: Revolution!" read a placard. One group carried a cardboard coffin with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's name on it.
Berlusconi later condemned the "incredible level of violence" at the march.
"We've seen the worst of Europe today in Rome," Mayor Gianni Alemanno said.
Seventy people were injured in the clashes and treated by medics, including three in a serious condition, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Backing from Italy's main trade unions and student movements boosted the numbers at the protest in Rome -- in contrast to most of the other rallies.
As the day began, around 500 people gathered in the heart of Hong Kong's financial district to vent their anger. 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.