Residents of Verona have flooded the streets of the northern Italian city to reiterate calls for independence and demand the release of 24 activists arrested earlier on suspicion of plotting to take over Venice's main square with an improvised tank.
Protesters blew whistles, set off air horns, and waved flags of
the Veneto region en mass at the demonstration, while detonating
smoke bombs in the region's signature red and yellow colors. The
rally, which was staged in Piazza dei Signori – Verona’s downtown
– was also held with the aim of freeing Veneto State from the
clutches of the mafia.
“The jails are made for criminals and the mafia, not for the fathers and mothers of families,” federal secretary of Lega Nord, Matteo Salvini, told the crowd. He reiterated the pacifist nature of the event in Verona. “We are here to defend the freedom of thought and speech. The choice of the league is a non-violent choice.”
“It will be a march of freedom, a human chain of smiles,” Salvini stated prior to the event.
According to Salvini, the Italian government “put ideas in prison” by arresting the activists on Wednesday.
“Today we take to the streets in Verona together to demonstrate with respect and civility...to make the voice of the Veneto heard,” said Erika Stefani, a senator from Lega Nord. “The citizens are tired of slogans, now they want facts.”
On Wednesday, Italian police arrested 24 people on suspicion of plotting to take over Venice’s iconic St. Mark's Square with a bulldozer which they converted into a “tank.” Twenty-seven others are under investigation. Such crimes are punishable by up to 15 years behind bars.
“This investigation is wrong, with millions of euros spent on finding a bulldozer,” Salvini said at the rally.
The suspects were members of a group called The Alliance, which unites radical separatists from Italy’s Lombardy, Sardinia, and Veneto regions. Among the arrested was Franco Rocchetta, a former lawmaker and campaigner for Venetian independence who helped organize an unofficial online referendum in March, in the wake of Crimea’s independence from Ukraine.
Verona, one of the main tourist destinations in northern Italy, is a city in the Veneto region where many are seeking to restore the glory of its old days by creating a state of their own. In March, over 89 percent of Veneto’s residents voted in the unofficial, self-styled 'referendum' in favor of independence from the rest of the country. Local media doubted the results, alleging that many of the votes were generated by computers abroad.