'Occupy Wall Street' protest becomes a riot in Rome
AMSTERDAM // Flames and black smoke billowed through the streets of central Rome yesterday when a protest against corporate greed turned into riot.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators who torched cars, smashed shop and bank windows and hurled rocks, bottles, incendiary devices and firecrackers.
Black-clad protesters with covered faces trashed the offices of the defence ministry and a jobs agency, smashing windows with clubs and hammers and setting more vehicles on fire.
The 100,000 who took to the streets of the Italian capital were part of a global wave of "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations against perceived excesses of the financial system and austerity measures that have hit large swaths of the world's population.
Organisers on social network sites said they hoped for street protests in 951 cities in 82 countries across Europe, America, Asia and Africa. There were protests in most major cities, from Amsterdam to Tokyo, but other than in Rome, most passed off peacefully.
Inspired by the "Indignados" movement in Spain in May, the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrators have kept a vigil in lower Manhattan since last month. Yesterday they organised a march to Times Square and a rally at JP Morgan Chase, where participants planned to pull out their money and close accounts. Other actions were planned across the US.
The worldwide protests took place against the background of an ongoing financial crisis, with Europe in particular still struggling to agree on a bail-out for Greece and a shoring up of the continent's vulnerable banks.
Many of the protesters in Europe voiced their fear that they, as taxpayers, will eventually foot the bill.
In London, which was hit by riots in August, close to a thousand activists gathered on the stairs of St Paul's Cathedral under the banner of "Occupy the London Stock Exchange". Minor scuffles broke out when police blocked them from approaching the nearby exchange building.
Thousands marched in Frankfurt, another major European financial centre and in other German and European cities.
In Amsterdam, the seat of the world's oldest stock exchange and also the centre of the world's first speculative financial bubble - the tulip mania of 1637 - about 1,500 people gathered in front of the bourse, representing a mix of ages and backgrounds.
Placards made clear the widely diverging demands of the protesters, from "money for jobs" to "Fukushima mon amour", a reference to the Tsunami-hit and radiation-leaking Japanese nuclear reactor. Many posters and signs sought to link the protests to this year's popular uprisings in the Arab world.
One of the organiser, who gave his name as Freddie, said the one unifying demand of most protesters was "the total reform of the financial system". Despite the leftwing rhetoric of many of those present, the organiser said that all were welcome, including supporters of the Netherlands' right-wing firebrand Geert Wilders. "We have no political colour, we are open to all," he said.
The global protests kicked off yesterday morning with modest demonstrations in the Australian cities of Sidney and Melbourne. In Japan, which has been hit by a long and intractable financial crisis and by this year's tsunami, just several hundred people marched in Tokyo. Elsewhere in Asia, which has mostly been hit less hard by the global economic and financial crisis than Europe and the US, attendance was also limited.
In Madrid, a representative of the original Spanish demonstrations said he was glad to see the protests spread. "It is not quite a matter of being proud but seeing that finally the people are reacting to the collapse of the system," said Ivan Martinoz.
Despite the absence of any centralised and organised movement, he acknowledged that the protests were all coordinated through the internet, which served as a tool to provide people with information on when and where they can participate.
The Spanish movement had also been instrumental in helping to get the North American Occupy groups organised. "Of course without any doubt, this is about the same thing, since the beginning. It is logical because they have the same system as us, of course there are differences in culture but we are globalised, so of course the same thing happened in Occupy Wall Street.
* Additional reporting by the Associated Press
Published: October 16, 2011 04:00 AM