Italian anti-austerity demonstrations grow

Thousands of protesters including the “Forconi” (Pitchforks) movement have rallied against austerity in Rome in protests seen as a sign of sweeping social unease in a country ravaged by economic crisis.

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Unemployed students, hard-up business owners and immigrants took to the streets in different protests in the city centre, as Italy struggles to recover from a painful recession – its longest since World War II.

“What is the point of staying in Italy when there is so much unemployment?” asked Sebastiano Ferro, 29, an unemployed graduate and one of hundreds taking part in one of the demonstrations, called by the far-left.

Ferro said he was thinking of moving abroad to work, joining a wave of emigrants which rose to 106,000 last year compared with 50,000 in 2002.

At the Pitchforks protest, which included a group of far-right activists, the mood was similarly glum.

“People cannot even get to the third week of the month,” said Adriano Sola, who works in his parents’ bedroom furniture store in Caserta in southern Italy.

“And then there are some people whom we did not even vote for who make 20,000 or 30,000 ($A47,000),” he said.

Draped in an Italian flag, 51-year-old Massimo Colombani said he would be forced to shut down his restaurant business next month because of an unbearable tax burden of up to 80 per cent.

He said he had boarded a bus from Viareggio in central Italy in solidarity “with the unemployed, the small business owners, the over-qualified graduates who cannot find work or are forced to work illegally”.

A 41-year-old business owner, who declined to give his name, said the two biggest wrongs in Italy were “excessively high taxes” and “state inefficiency”.

“This government has done nothing for small businesses, which are the engine of the country,” he said, as protesters around him sang the national anthem.

The Italian economy ended two years of contraction in the third quarter with zero growth, but unemployment levels are still at record highs and thousands of businesses have been forced to shut down.

Italy’s political class is widely discredited, and one politician who came to see the Pitchforks protest was shooed away with shouts of “Go home!” and “Go and work!”

The Pitchforks movement, which is divided between radical and moderate wings, is an anti-European group that wants more national sovereignty and lower taxes.

It began as a farmers’ protest group in Sicily and has grown into a disparate national movement including truck drivers, students and small business owners.