Far-right protesters clash with Rome police over virus curfew

Rome (AFP) –


Dozens of far-right protesters in Rome clashed with riot police during a demonstration against the curfew early Sunday, as Italy's government prepared to tighten coronavirus restrictions further.

Some 200 masked militants belonging to neo-fascist group Forza Nuova hurled projectiles at police and set rubbish bins alight in a second night of street protests after hundreds of demonstrators clashed with officers in Naples further south.

Police in the Italian capital arrested seven protesters and reported two officers injured, according to the Repubblica daily.

The protests follow decisions this week by several regions to impose overnight curfews in a bid to slow rising Covid-19 infection numbers.

Italy on Saturday reported nearly 20,000 new cases over a 24-hour period, a record number.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said he does not want to impose a new and economically-debilitating blanket lockdown of the type imposed earlier in the year, when the pandemic gripped the country.

The entire nation was confined to home in March for two months, precipitating Italy's worst post-war recession.

Conte is nonetheless expected to announce a fresh tightening of restrictions Sunday, which could include reduced opening hours for restaurants and bars and the closure of public gyms and swimming pools.

Piedmont in the north and Sicily in the south will follow Campania, Lazio and Lombardy next week in imposing curfews, with other regions expected to join them -- unless the government first imposes nationwide rules.

Calls were issued on social media for Rome to follow Naples' example in challenging the curfew, which in the capital runs from midnight to 5 am.

Protesters in Rome's central Piazza del Popolo square waited until one minute before midnight to set off fireworks in the colours of the Italian flag, don balaclavas, and throw flares and firecrackers at the police.

"We refuse to accept that the virus is around one minute before midnight and the next minute no," Forza Nuova leader Giuliano Castellino said, according to AGI news agency.

Italy was the first European country to be badly hit by the virus and has now registered over 500,000 cases and more than 37,000 deaths, according to health ministry figures.