Police clad in riot gear violently clashed with student protesters as thousands poured onto the streets during anti-cuts demonstrations in several major Italian cities. Similar anti-austerity rallies were reported throughout the country.
Hundreds of high-schooled aged protesters scuffled with police in Rome as they attempted to reach the country’s education ministry.
Riot police allegedly beat several student demonstrators with truncheons during the anti-cuts rally. Several demonstrators claim police pinned them to the ground with knees and batons pressed against their necks.
Four police officers were reportedly injured, and several organizers of the “unauthorized” protest were detained.
Police say they confiscated missiles lobbed at them during the skirmishes.
Several of the detained student protest organizers are currently being identified, and one 15-year-old demonstrator scooped up by police was later released to his parents.
"No to the Crisis and Austerity! Let's take back our Schools and Cities!" read a large banner at the front of the protest in Rome.
"We take to the streets not only to say that we do not accept these austerity politics, but also to bring to the attention of the public the problems of the schools, to say that the school is an important piece of society and we can't do without it," one demonstrator who did not provide his name said.
City authorities took a different view of the demonstration.
"Unfortunately, today we are once again faced with the problems caused by a protest in our city. Only 1,000 students have managed to paralyze the capital. Romans are fed up and once again we turn to the interior ministry to lay down some rules, if not we risk suffocating," Gazzetta del Sud quotes Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno as saying.
Protests in Milan turned considerably more violent, as many demonstrators donning helmets and shields brought eggs and oranges to pelt police with.
Masked protesters met a column of riot police head on as a burning flare enveloped them in a cloud of smoke. Police began swinging their batons wildly, quickly dispersing the protesters who were allegedly headed towards regional government offices.
One female demonstrator was dragged to the ground and struck with a baton across her stomach while the officer turned her over on her side. Five students were injured in Milan and fifteen more protesters were detained but later released.
Similar protests reportedly took place in Turin and several other cities across the country. The protesters claim the EU backed austerity measures are gutting the country’s public education system.
Student protests have become a staple in Italy over the last several years as unrelenting recession in the eurozone’s third-largest economy. The government of former PM Silvio Berlusconi introduced a raft of deep cuts in the education budget.
Last December, the country’s parliament adopted an austerity package implementing tax hikes, a freeze on public sector hiring and other across the board spending cuts.
Youth unemployment in Italy reached an all time high of 39.3 per cent in 2012.