Italian far-left protesters scuffle with police as election tensions rise

ROME (Reuters) - Italian police scuffled with about a hundred far-left protesters marching against a neo-fascist party event in the northern city of Turin on Thursday, a sign of increasing tensions ahead of the March 4 national election.

Dozens of “anti-fascist” protesters tried to break through a police cordon to reach a hotel where the far-right Casapound party was holding a rally for its candidates.

They were rebuffed by police in riot gear, who then hit the protesters with water cannon and teargas.

The two factions then faced off at a distance, with protesters throwing large firecrackers and bottles while holding a banner reading: “Turin is anti-fascist”. Police fired more teargas and pursued the protesters, seeking to disperse them.

Three police suffered minor injuries, AGI news agency reported. An unknown number of arrests also were made.

The protesters were ultimately kept away from the Casapound event. Casapound won 9 percent of the vote in a Rome municipal election in November, but has never had a member of parliament and looks unlikely to succeed this time.

A series of violent incidents over the past month have led some politicians and newspapers express concern about a return to the political violence of the 1970s and 1980s, known as the “years of lead”.

This period was marked by murders and bombings carried out by far-right and far-left groups. The Red Brigades kidnapped and murdered five-time Christian Democrat prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.

Earlier this month, a 28-year-old Italian with declared Nazi sympathies went on a shooting spree in Macerata, a city in central Italy. He shot and wounded six black migrants before being stopped by police.

Ten days ago a group of far-left protesters severely beat a Carabiniere, or military police officer, who was trying to stop protesters from reaching a Casapound event in northern Italy.

Then this week a far-right politician for the Forza Nuova (New Force) party was stopped on the street in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, tied up and beaten by a group of far-left activists.

Also this week, a member of the far-left Power to the People party was stabbed in Perugia, in central Italy, as he put up campaign posters.

Members of Casapound later said they were the ones who had been attacked while putting up posters, and that the stabbing happened as they defended themselves.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Alison Williams