Saturday, February 17, 2007

40,000 protest expansion US militaty base in Italy

Protest against expansion of US military base held in Italy
17 Feb 2007 EarthTimesNews

Vicenza, Italy - Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Vicenza on Saturday to protest against plans to expand a United States military base in the northern Italian city.

About 40,000 people, according to official estimates, took part in the largely peaceful demonstration, watched over by about 1,500 policemen in riot gear.

The rally was organized by left-wing militants and local residents who oppose the expansion of Camp Ederle, home to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The base is to be enlarged by 2010 to accommodate a further 1,800 American soldiers currently stationed in Germany under an agreement forged by US President George W Bush with former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The current government of Romano Prodi has endorsed that decision, in spite of protests from part of the Vicenza population, backed by far-left members of the premier's supporting centre-left coalition.

The protesters included pacifists and a small group of American nationals carrying a banner reading "Not in our name".

There were moments of tension when a group of protesters raised a banner expressing their solidarity towards 15 left-wing terrorists arrested by police earlier this week.

The initiative was condemned by the vast majority of participants.

Among them Franco Giordano, the head of the Refounded Communist Party, who called it "vile".

Giordano is one of several left wing politicians who have come under fire from opposition leaders for taking part in a rally which criticises a decision taken by their own government.

Participants said they hoped the size of Saturday's protest might convince Prodi to reconsider.

Concerned by possible outbreaks of violence, many shops in Vicenza remained shut for the afternoon while local officials closed down schools for the day. The city's local US military radio station urged US residents to spend Saturday away from Vicenza or to remain indoors.

Italy witnessed massive street clashes between anti-globalization activists and the police during a 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. The clashes devastated the city and one militant was shot dead by a policeman.