Alexa

Anti-Berlusconi protest draws big crowd in Rome

Anti-Berlusconi protest draws big crowd in Rome

A huge crowd turned out Saturday to protest the conservative policies of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government, including plans to cut funding for public universities and hold separate classes for immigrant children.
Center-left leader Walter Veltroni, the former Rome mayor whom Berlusconi beat soundly in elections last spring, rallied the crowd, which filled the vast, grassy expanse of Circus Maximus, the ancient Roman entertainment space.
"Italy is better than the right-wing coalition that governs it," Veltroni told the crowd to big applause.
There was no immediate police estimate of the crowd size, but the field and sloping sides of Circus Maximus can easily hold a couple hundred thousand people.
Buses, trains and even boats were chartered to bring the protesters to Rome for two marches that ended up at Circus Maximus. Veltroni led one of the marches.
Berlusconi won a solid majority in Parliament in the election, which gave him the premiership for the third time since he entered politics some 15 years ago.
Veltroni contended at the rally that Berlusconi's popular support has weakened, although opinion polls have showed the conservative leader's popularity is still high.
In recent weeks, there have been nearly daily protests in cities nationwide by students angered by Berlusconi's planned education reforms, which would cut university spending and flunk students for poor conduct.
Another proposal would require separate classes for immigrant children until they learn Italian well.
Get-tough measures on immigrants include fingerprinting Gypsy children.
Critics contend Berlusconi has used his political power to protect himself and his business empire from criminal prosecution. Berlusconi has contended that several judicial probes and trials of him were politically motivated by left-leaning prosecutors.
Shortly after his election this year, Berlusconi's center-right allies in Parliament successfully worked for a law which exempts the premier and several other top-office holders from prosecution while in power.
Berlusconi insisted the reforms of the justice system benefit the entire country.