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Italy hit by protests as PM unveils economic plan

By Frances D'emilio

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Nov. 17 2011 11:10 a.m. MST

Students clash with police during a demonstration in Turin, Italy, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. University students are protesting in various Italian cities against budget cuts and a lack of jobs, hours before new Italian Premier Mario Monti reveals his anti-crisis strategy in Parliament. Across Italy, transport unions called all-day walkouts or strikes of several hours Thursday to demand better work contracts. Scuffles among students were reported in Turin, Palermo, and in Milan, where they hoped to march to Bocconi University, which trains Italy's business elite. Monti, an economist, is Bocconi's president.

Fabio Ferrari, Lapresse) ITALY OUT, Associated Press

ROME — As riot police clashed with protesters in the streets, Italy's new premier unveiled his economic plan, vowing to spur growth yet spread out the sacrifices Italians must accept to save their country from bankruptcy and the eurozone from a disastrous collapse.

Mario Monti spoke to lawmakers Thursday as anti-austerity protesters turned violent in Milan, Turin and in Sicily, signaling the depths of resistance the economist-turned-premier will have to overcome if his plan is to succeed.

He framed the situation in dire terms — if Italy cannot save itself, the 17-nation eurozone of which it is a founding member would be in catastrophic danger.

"The end of the euro would cause the disintegration of the united market, its rules, its institutions," the former European Union competition commissioner told the Senate ahead of a confidence vote on his one-day-old government. "The future of the euro also depends on what Italy will do in the next weeks. Also, not only."

Europe has already bailed out three small countries — Greece, Ireland and Portugal — but the Italian economy, the third-largest in the eurozone is too big for Europe to rescue. Yet borrowing rates for Italy rose briefly over 7 percent Thursday — a level that forced those other countries into bailouts. Italy's role in the eurozone is considered crucial for economic and political reasons — but it's not clear how much sacrifices already-stressed Italians are willing or able to make.

Monti assembled his new government Wednesday, shunning politicians and turning to fellow professors, bankers and business executives to fill key cabinet posts. But while he appealed in a calm, professorial tone Thursday for the country to pull together, protesters chanted anti-Monti slogans in the streets of Rome, Milan and Turin.

Milan police in riot gear wielded clubs as they scuffled with egg-throwing students who tried unsuccessfully to march to Bocconi University, which educates Italy's business elite. Monti is Bocconi's president.

"The government of the banks" read one placard held by a youth.

"Save schools, not banks!" read one banner raised by students in Milan in front of the Association of Italian Banks. Demonstrators chanted "Association of Italian bankrupters!"

Rome protester Titti Mazzacane was skeptical, even as she called Monti's choices "decent and competent people."

"(His government) is a little bit too free-market liberal. I am a bit scared," said the 53-year-old elementary school teacher.

Public schools have been hard hit by budget cuts from previous Italian governments.

Monti revealed plans to fight Italy's pervasive tax evasion, lower costs for companies so they can hire more and possibly lower taxes rates for women to encourage their increased participation in the work place. Hee warned Italians they must brace for more "sacrifices," including the probable return of a property tax on primary residences.

"We must convince the markets we have started going down the road of a lasting reduction in the ratio of public debt to GDP. And to reach this objective we have three fundamentals: budgetary rigor, growth and fairness," Monti said.

He said he would quickly work to lower Italy's staggering public debt, which now stands €1.9 trillion ($2.6 trillion) — 120 percent of its GDP.

"But we won't be credible if we don't start to grow," Monti added.

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