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Rome counts costs of worst street violence in years

Italian officials on Sunday said the protesters who ran riot in Rome the previous day had caused one million euros of damage to public buildings. The violence, which broke out at an anti-capitalist protest, injured 135 people.


AFP - Rome's worst street violence in years injured 135 people and caused damage of one million euros ($1.4 million) to public property, officials said on Sunday, as the clashes ignited a political row.

"We have to act with appropriate toughness against these animals," Mayor Gianni Alemanno said, as he visited the area around St John Lateran square near the city centre that was devastated by the violence on Saturday.

"There was a million (euros) in damages to public property and you have to factor in damage to private property too," he said, adding that the city would seek government money to compensate private citizens for their losses.

He also said city hall would constitute itself as a plaintiff in any legal action against the 12 protesters already arrested and indicated there could be further arrests once police had studied video footage from the protests.

Protesters torched several cars, smashed the windows of banks and shops and set light to a military depot building in the city centre. The confrontation in St John Lateran square lasted for four hours.

Out of the injured 105 are officers and 30 are protesters, two of whom have had fingers amputated due to exploding smoke bombs, ANSA news agency reported.

Earlier reports had put the total number of injured people at 70.

Interviewed by ANSA in hospital, a police officer who fled from his van shortly before it was set on fire by protesters at the height of Saturday's clashes said he had never seen violence on this scale.

"I've done protests but I've never seen anything like this. Luckily I had my helmet on, otherwise I'd be dead," said the officer, who was not named.

"I couldn't move forward or back. They broke my side mirror and managed to open one of the doors. Then I don't remember anything. I ran away," he said.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni condemned the "unprecedented violence" and thanked law enforcement for ensuring there were no fatalities.

"There was a real risk of this because the violent protesters were using the march as a shield," Maroni said, adding: "I want the authors of this violence, who are real dyed-in-the-wool criminals, to pay as an example to others."

A police trade union, UGL, meanwhile complained that Maroni had "gravely underestimated" the potential violence at the protest.

Police, prison guard and fire brigade unions have separately planned their own protests against a series of budget cuts for Tuesday.

Allies of centre-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rounded on left-wingers, warning of violent extremists in their midst.

"The violent left wants to destroy and kill," read a headline in the Padania newspaper of the Northern League party, a ruling coalition member.

Opposition forces meanwhile called for a review of security measures.

"The government has to explain in detail how it's possible that such a high number of vandals went unnoticed by the interior ministry," said Italo Bocchino from the right-wing opposition Future and Freedom for Italy party.

"Silence implies complicity and raises suspicion," he said.

There were similar but smaller-scale clashes in Rome in which 22 people were injured and 41 arrested on December 14 after scandal-tainted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survived a confidence vote in parliament.

The worst clashes in Rome before that were the violent and sometimes deadly confrontations between political militants and security forces during a period known as the "Years of Lead" in the 1970s and 1980s.

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