Protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration against a military base used by U.S. paratroopers, in the northern Italian city of Vicenza July 4, 2009.
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There have been ugly scenes in Italy as demonstrators denouncing the planned expansion of a US military base clashed with riot police.
Violence erupted as security forces moved to prevent protesters from crossing a bridge and getting nearer to the controversial site.
Youths lit firecrackers and threw stones and bottles at police who replied with tear gas.
The extension plan in the northeastern city of Vicenza has angered environmental campaigners, far left groups and some locals.
The disturbances come just days before Italy hosts the G8 summit.
One man claimed police set out to prevent the protest, despite agreeing to stay inside the base and let demonstrators express themselves.
“That is not what happened today,” he said.
Another argued: “Here in Vicenza we have held peaceful demonstrations for years. Nothing ever happened.”
And most of those protesting against the Dal Molin project, that would make the US base one of the biggest in Europe, did do so peacefully.
Opponents contend the base is bad for the environment, increases the risk of terrorist attacks and threatens Vicenza’s historic centre.
Juli 05, 2009
VICENZA, Italy (Reuters) – Anti-G8 demonstrators clashed briefly with Italian police on Saturday in the first big protest ahead of next week’s summit of the world’s richest nations.
Police in riot gear fired teargas at protesters to prevent them from crossing a bridge and moving closer to a contested U.S. military base in the northeastern city of Vicenza.
The demonstrators, some of them wearing motorcycle helmets and with their faces covered, threw bottles and lit fireworks as they were pushed back on the bridge.
Several thousand people, most of them marching peacefully, are attending the protest, launched against expansion plans that would make the U.S. base one of the biggest in Europe and more generally against the July 8-10 G8 summit which Italy chairs.
“We are sick of the powerful governing without consulting the people,” said Martina Vultaggio, 29, one of the protest organisers.
The leaders of the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia, together with those of major emerging economies, will hold talks in the central city of L’Aquila focusing on the state of the world economy, financial regulation, climate change, trade and development.
Anti-capitalist protesters plan a series of demonstrations at different sites against the summit, starting with the one in Vicenza — where locals oppose the doubling of the size of the U.S. base, home to 3,000 soldiers of the 173 Airborne Brigade.
The Italian government has approved construction of a new 6,000 square metre (64,600 sq ft) base on the site of the old Molin airport on the city’s outskirts.
Despite approval by Rome, Vicenza residents have rejected the base expansion in a referendum.
Opponents contend the base poses a threat to ground water, is dangerous for residents and for Vicenza’s historic centre, a treasure of Renaissance architecture.
The protesters have vowed to march about 3.5 km to the construction site, which has been sealed off by local authorities, and plant flags with anti-base slogans. Around 1,000 police were deployed on Saturday along the route.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is keen to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred a 2001 G8 summit hosted by Italy in Genoa, when a protester was killed and scores of others were beaten up by police.
Summit organisers have said the choice of L’Aquila, which was badly damaged by an earthquake in April that killed nearly 300 people and left 60,000 homeless, should deter violent protests out of respect for the plight of local people.
Demonstrators plan to stage a candle-lit night march in the city on July 6 — three months after the quake struck.
By Ian Simpson
Sat Jul 4, 2009 9:46pm IST