Rome, Oct. 4 (Reuters): Riot police in Rome used batons and tear gas to beat back hundreds of anti-globalisation protesters at a demonstration today during a meeting of EU leaders.
Scores of police charged the demonstrators after being hit by stones and bottles as they tried to maintain security at the EU conference where leaders met to discuss the bloc’s proposed new constitution.
Several demonstrators and two policemen were injured. One elderly man was taken away in an ambulance with a deep gash to his head and blood pouring down his face. Police said they had detained 13 protesters.
After the tear gas was fired, the crowd quickly dispersed and police returned to their lines in front of the hall where 28 leaders were holding their one-day summit.
The disturbance was the first major incident between Italian police and anti-globalisation protesters since July 2001, when a day of violent clashes at a Group of Eight summit in Genoa left one demonstrator dead and dozens of protesters injured.
Interior minister Giuseppe Pisanu blamed the clashes on a hardcore group of protesters and praised security forces.
“As we expected, around 400 lawless thugs did everything they could to pick a fight and cause the demonstration to break down into violence,” he said in a statement. “Thanks to those peaceful demonstrators and the self-control and professionalism of our security forces, violence and damage was kept to a minimum,” he added.
Earlier, a group of around 50 masked protesters smashed windows and cars and set fire to the offices of an employment agency not far from the site of the EU summit, witnesses said.
“They blocked off the street with dustbins and old tyres and then attacked the agency with sticks and iron bars before throwing some sort of firebomb into it,” said Gianni Sugaroni.
Police said they detained 37 people who fled the scene and firefighters later put out the blaze in the gutted office. Cars outside the Adecco agency, one of the world’s largest temporary employment companies, were also destroyed.