Italian police fire tear gas as thousands stage "Pitchfork Protest"

ROME Mon Dec 9, 2013 9:44am EST

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ROME Dec 9 (Reuters) - Police fired tear gas as thousands of farmers, truckers and unemployed people disrupted road and rail traffic in cities across Italy on Monday in protests aimed against targets ranging from banks to the tax collection agency, Equitalia.

Protesters stopped trains at Turin's main station by walking on the tracks and gathered in front of the Piedmonte regional council. Smaller protests caused disruption in the northern regions of Veneto and Emilia Romagna and in Sicily in the south.

The so-called "Pitchfork Movement" which inspired the protest was orignially a group of Sicilian farmers pushing for more help from the government, but it has grown into a wider movement expressing discontent with various other institutions.

The euro zone's No. 3 economy is in deep recession, youth unemployment is more than 40 percent, and business failures are up nearly 10 percent from last year.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta has warned repeatedly that opposition to the government and the EU is growing strongly, fuelled by sacrifices needed to keep public finances in order and which could result in a massive anti-EU vote in next year's European parliamentary elections.

"We farmers are on the streets to say 'Enough!' to the state, the government, the unions. We just can't manage anymore," Giorgio Bissoli, spokesman for the Azione Rurale protest group in the Veneto region told Canale 5 television.

"Our main priority is that they all have to go!," he said.

Protesters cited discontent over a range of subjects from globalisation to fuel prices, taxes, the euro and the European Union. The mood has grown increasingly bitter in many sectors after a recession which has persisted for more than two years.

"Notice to citizens. On Dec. 9 2013 real Italians - the unemployed, casual workers, pensioners, workers in every sector, students, mothers and fathers - will stop, to throw out the criminals who hold power," read a flyer handed out in the protests and posted on the Internet. (Reporting by Sara Rossi and James Mackenzie; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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