Rome cleans up devastation, asks why it happened

ROME Sun Oct 16, 2011 8:45am EDT

Demonstrators vandalise a burning Carabinieri police vehicle during a demonstration of the ''Indignant'' group against banking and finance in Rome October 15, 2011. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Demonstrators vandalise a burning Carabinieri police vehicle during a demonstration of the ''Indignant'' group against banking and finance in Rome October 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

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ROME (Reuters) - Workers cleaned up the wreckage from some of Rome's worst riots in years on Sunday and citizens asked why their city was the only one in which global demonstrations turned violent.

"Yesterday we once again showed the world the anomaly of Italy and today we once again have to feel shame," La Stampa newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

"Why did it happen only here?"

It was a question many Italians were asking as workmen swept up broken glass, sandblasted graffiti off church walls, repaired broken statues, replaced shattered bank windows and ATM machines and towed away the burned-out shells of cars.

Hundreds of hooded, masked protesters rampaged through the capital on Saturday during a larger peaceful protest against elites blamed for an economic crisis. Clashes with police raged for at least six hours.

Apart from the material damage, estimated by merchants' groups at more than a million euros, Mayor Gianni Alemanno said the capital would long suffer from the "moral damage" and shock caused by the rampage and the bad publicity around the world.

Many asked why police did not intervene earlier to stop the hardcore protesters, who call themselves "Black Bloc," from arriving in Rome, moving around freely and infiltrating the demonstration in the first place.

The "Black Bloc" members approached the demonstration already wearing masks, hoods or motorcycle helmets and brandishing sticks, pipes and other objects.

"PROTESTERS NOT FROM MARS"

Massimo Donadi, a legislator of the opposition Italy of Values party, called on the interior minister to address parliament and explain why the situation got out of hand and why more preventive action had not been taken.

"These professionals of violence ... did not arrive from Mars," Donadi said. "We want the interior minister to tell us how it happened."

Mayor Alemanno called for police to "strike out at the violent factions before they can deploy."

Many Italians also asked why police managed to arrest only 12 of the hundreds of violent demonstrators who used sticks, rock, bottles and even fire extinguishers in running battles with police in wide open piazzas as well as narrow streets.

While discontent is smouldering in Italy over high unemployment, political paralysis and 60 billion euros ($83 billion) of austerity measures that have raised taxes and the cost of health care, few expected the demonstrations to degenerate into such violence.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said those responsible must be identified and punished, calling the rioting worrying.

"They must be condemned by everyone without reservation," he said.

On Sunday a small group of peaceful protesters re-deployed to a square in front of a church near where some of the violence took place to continue a sit-in.

"We are the real indignant ones," one said. "They stole our day."

(Reporting By Philip Pullella)

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