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'Spiral of Rebellion' Sweeps Italy

Pitchfork movement organizers vow 'peaceful invasion' of Rome until ruling regime steps down

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Protesters with the loosely formed movement I Forconi (the Pitchforks) demonstrate in Turin, Italy. (Photograph: NurPhoto/Rex Features)Marking the sixth day of relentless blockades, occupations and mass demonstrations that many warn may set off "a spiral of rebellion" across Europe, protesters—marching under the banner of the 'Pitchfork' movement—gathered Saturday in Rome, Turin and Venice, Italy.

"Activists wearing Italian flag masks and white nooses around their necks rallied outside the European Commission's office in Rome and took down a European flag outside before being chased off by police," AFP reports.

According to the report, police violence against protesters persisted across Italy. In Venice, police fired tear gas at protesters outside the city's train station and in the northern Italy city of Turin—the epicenter of the latest wave of anti-austerity revolt—students paint bombs were met with force.

"There are millions of us and we are growing by the hour," said Danilo Calvani, a farmer who has emerged as one of the protest leaders. "This government has to go."

"These protests show Italy's massive crisis of political representation," said Duncan McDonnell, a political scientist at the European University Institute in Florence. "These people don't feel that anyone's actually listening to them … It really shows how there are big sections of Italian society that don't feel represented by anyone – political parties, trade unions, interest groups or business."

What began in January 2012 when a group of Sicilian farmers and trucking companies staged a nine-day blockade to protest austerity-driven increases to fuel and fertilizer prices, the Forconi or Pitchforks movement has swelled into a national mobilization of small businessmen, low-paid workers, students and the unemployed taking a stand against the leading regime.

The week of actions are leading up to plans for a "peaceful invasion" in Rome starting Wednesday where demonstrations will reportedly persist until demands for a wholesale government changeover are met.

The protests have gained the support of other Italian opposition groups including the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, whose leader Beppe Grillo urged in an open letter to leaders of the security forces to "no longer give protection to this political class that has brought Italy to its knees" and instead join their Italian bretheren.

"In the forthcoming demonstrations," he wrote on his blog earlier this week, "order your lads to take off their helmets and fraternise with the citizens. It’ll be a signal that is revolutionary, peaceful and extreme."

Grillo continues:

This moment in history that we are experiencing right now, is a very dangerous one. The institutions have been delegitimised. The electoral law has been declared unconstitutional. Parliament, the Government and the President of the Republic are arbitrarily carrying out their functions. [...]

The management of the public resources, of social services, of the health service, of education and of law and order, is in a mess. The economy is collapsing. [...]

Italy has lost monetary sovereignty, fiscal sovereignty and it’s about to lose its economic sovereignty with the most likely hypothesis being that of strangulation by the recessionary policies of the International Monetary Fund. Most of the citizens are being kept in the dark about the real situation that the country is hurtling into, thanks to a disinformation regime that places Italy in the 70th position on the “freedom of the press” ranking [...]

The disturbances that took place yesterday throughout Italy were mostly caused by the exasperation of the people because of their quality of life and the arrogance of a political class that is not doing without any privileges, but is just intent on perpetuating their own existence. Yesterday’s protests could be the beginning of a conflagration or the precursor of future uprisings that could perhaps be uncontrollable.

Following the success of ruling Prime Minister Enrico Letta during a confidence vote in parliament Wednesday, organizers vowed to ramp up their actions until the party in power stepped aside.

"If the government wins the confidence vote on Wednesday and the politicians remain in place, all the pitchforks in Italy will move on Rome for a peaceful invasion," said Calvani.

This latest wave of demonstrations began on Monday when a series of small demonstrations sprang up across the country with reports of police violence and tear gas attacks.

In Turin on Tuesday, Italian independent reporter Mattia Marinolli writes, various demonstrations converged in the central square, Piazza Castello, where police responded to a number of hurled stones with "barrages of tear gas." Reportedly after the skirmish, when protesters demanded that the officers remove their helmets, some did—adding fuel to Grillo's and others' call for national solidarity with the demonstrations.

According to Reuters, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told parliament earlier this week that the wave of unrest could "lead to a spiral of rebellion against national and European institutions."

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