Occupy Protests Go Global – Anarchy Reigns in the Streets
Hundreds of hooded, masked protesters rampaged through Rome in some of the worst violence in the Italian capital for years Saturday, torching cars and breaking windows during a larger peaceful protest against elites blamed for economic downturn.
Police repeatedly fired tear gas and water cannon in attempts to disperse them but the clashes with a minority of violent demonstrators stretched into the evening, hours after tens of thousands of people in Rome joined a global “day of rage” against bankers and politicians.
Smoke rose over many parts of the neighborhood between the Colosseum and St John’s Basilica, forcing many residents and peaceful demonstrators to run into buildings and churches for shelter as militant protesters ran wild.
After police managed to push the well-organized radicals away from the St. John’s area, they ravaged a major thoroughfare, the Via Merulana — building barricades with garbage cans and setting the netting of the scaffolding of a building on fire.
Discontent is smoldering 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.
The violence at times resembled urban guerrilla warfare as protesters hurled rocks, bottles and fireworks at police, who responded by repeatedly charging the demonstrators.
Around 70 people were injured, according to news reports, including one man who tried to stop the protesters from throwing bottles.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno blamed the violence on “a few thousand thugs from all over Italy, and possibly from all over Europe, who infiltrated the demonstration.” Some Rome museums were forced to close down and at least one theater canceled a show.
Protesters also set fire to a building, causing the roof to collapse, reports said. The Defense Ministry denied reports it was one of its offices.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi called the violence a “worrying signal,” and added that the perpetrators “must be found and punished.”
Berlusconi barely survived a confidence vote Friday, with many questioning his leadership. Italy’s debt burden is second only to Greece in the 17-nation eurozone and the country is rapidly becoming a focus of concern in Europe’s debt crisis.
At one point radicals surrounded a police van near St John’s Basilica, pelted it with rock and bottles, and set it on fire. The two occupants managed to escape, television footage showed.
Some peaceful demonstrators also clashed with the militants and turned some of them over to police.
A day of worldwide protests inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States began Saturday with the hundreds of people gathering in cities from Japan and South Korea to Australia.
Organizers had hoped to see non-violent demonstrations in 951 cities in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa in addition to every state in the United States.
In the continental Europe’s financial capital, some 5,000 people protested in front of the European Central Bank , while in London, around 500 people marched from St. Paul’s cathedral to the nearby stock exchange. A website called 15october.net urged the people of the world to “rise up” and “claim their rights and demand a true democracy.”
“Now it is time for all of us to join in a global non violent protest. The ruling powers work for the benefit of just a few, ignoring the will of the vast majority and the human and environmental price we all have to pay. This intolerable situation must end,” the website says.
About 2,000 people, including representatives of Aboriginal groups, communists and trade unionists, protested outside the central Reserve Bank of Australia.
“I think people want real democracy,” said Nick Carson, a spokesman for OccupyMelbourne.Org. “They don’t want corporate influence over their politicians. They want their politicians to be accountable.”
The crowd cheered a speaker who shouted, “We’re sick of corporate greed! Big banks, big corporate power standing over us and taking away our rights!”
How does a group like Occupy Wall Street get anything done?
Danny Lim, a 67-year-old immigrant from Malaysia, said he moved to Australia 48 years ago in search of opportunities.
Now he no longer trusts the government to look after his best interests. He thinks Australia’s government has become too dependent upon the U.S. for direction.
“The big man — they don’t care. They screw everyone. Eventually we’ll mortgage our children away,” Lim said.
Where the ongoing nuclear crisis dominates public concerns, about 200 people joined the global protests Saturday.
Under the light drizzle, the participants marched outside the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, chanting anti-nuclear slogans, while opposing the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade bloc that Japan is considering joining.
“No to nuclear power,” the marchers chanted as they held up banners.
Over 100 people gathered at the Taipei 101 skyscraper, home to the stock exchange , chanting “we are
Taiwan’s 99 percent”, saying economic growth had only benefited companies while middle-class salaries barely covered soaring housing, education and healthcare costs.
They found support from a top businessmen, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp Chairman Morris Chang, who told reporters in the northern city of Hsinchu that Taiwan’s income gap was a serious issue.
“I’ve been against the gap between rich and poor,” Chang said. “The wealth of the top 1 percent has increased very fast in the past 20, 30 years. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is a reaction to that. We have to take the issue seriously…”
About 100 members of various groups under the Philippine left-wing alliance, Bayan, marched on the U.S. Embassy Saturday morning to express support for the Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States and to denounce “U.S. imperialism” and U.S.-led wars and aggression.
They carried a large banner that said, “Resist imperialist plunder, state repression and wars of aggression,” and another expressing “Solidarity action for Occupy Wall Street.”
They also chanted “U.S. troops, out now!” in reference to the presence of hundreds of U.S. soldiers, mostly in the southern Philippines, involved in anti-terrorism training of Filipino troops. One man carried a placard saying “Genuine people’s democracy lives in the streets.”
In South Korea, activists gathered on the streets of Seoul.
The Korea Herald newspaper reported that a coalition of 30 local civic groups planned to hold a two-day protest in the main financial district of Yeouido and other parts of the capital.
The protesters, who have adopted slogans and imagery used by those in the U.S., say the rally is designed to motivate “99 percent of Koreans” to complain about the actions of the wealthiest “1 percent,” the paper said.
“The situation is the same in South Korea (as the U.S.), where the financial institutions have speculated to earn high profits in a short time.
The protesters want compensation for people who lost money in the banking crisis.
Seoul police warned that damaging public facilities, occupying roads and assaulting police officers would not be tolerated, the Herald said.
“We will arrest those who stage illegal protests on the spot and also seek legal action even after the rally ends,” the Seoul Metropolitan Agency said in a release, the paper reported.
The call for mass protests around the world Saturday originated a month ago from a meeting in Spain, where mostly young and unemployed people angry at the country’s handling of the economic crisis have been demonstrating for months.
It was reposted on the Occupy Wall Street website and has been further amplified through social media.
Protesters in London vowed to occupy the London Stock Exchange Saturday. Nights of rioting rocked the British capital in August after the fatal police shooting of a 29-year-old man.
“We have people from all walks of life joining us every day,” said Spyro, one of those behind a Facebook page in London which has grown to some 12,000 followers in a few weeks.
Spyro, a 28-year-old who has a well-paid job and did not want to give his full name, summed up the main target of the global protests as “the financial system.”
Protests were planned for Saturday in cities including Montreal and Vancouver. In Toronto, demonstrators plan to gather at Canada’s main stock exchange.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he doubted Canadians would be as angry as their neighbors to the south as Canadian banks have not received a U.S.-type bailout.
He declined to comment when asked if he was concerned about a possible repeat of street violence that Toronto experienced at the G-20 summit last year.
In the United States, the hundreds of protesters at Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park — site of the original Occupy protest — called for more people to join them.
Politicians in both President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party and the Republican Party struggled to come up with a response to the growing nationwide movement.
Democrats have been largely supportive but also wary of endorsing criticism of Obama’s rescue of big banks in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The bank bailout was launched in the last months of President George W. Bush’s administration.
Republicans at first criticized the demonstrations but have shifted their tone in recent days.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor warned of “growing mobs” but later said the protesters were “justifiably frustrated.” – MSNBC