ROME (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Italians marched through Rome on Saturday to protest against Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government, which the left accuses of flirting with fascism.
Opposition leader Walter Veltroni, who lost to Berlusconi at an April election, addressed a crowd at Rome’s ancient chariot track Circus Maximus which organisers say numbered 2.5 million.
No official estimate of turnout was immediately available, but both the left and right in Italy often hold mass demonstrations with hundreds of thousands arriving in the capital from all over the country.
“Let’s always remember: another Italy is possible and we will build it together,” Veltroni told supporters who waved Democratic Party flags. One banner read in English: “Italy is not only Berlusconi.”
Ex-Rome mayor Veltroni has adopted a low profile since Berlusconi returned to power on an anti-crime and illegal immigration platform.
The rally was not aimed against any particular policies — unlike dozens of smaller demonstrations over recent days protesting reforms to the school system — but was meant to buoy centre-left voters who feel their opinions are being trampled.
In an alliance with two right wing parties, the 72-year media tycoon Berlusconi has a strong majority in parliament.
Among his earliest policies have been the dismantling of gypsy shanty towns, putting soldiers on city streets and guaranteeing immunity from prosecution for himself and a handful of other top officials.
While enjoying a an approval rating of 60 percent in some recent polls, he is loathed by the left which he often taunts for being “communists.”
Veltroni said Italy was becoming more racist and criticised some government members for historic links to fascism.
He mocked Berlusconi’s standing as a statesman, criticising him for suggesting in public that leaders were considering closing financial markets until the global crisis be resolved.
“How could he announce, in the darkest days, a decision that had not been taken — the closure of financial markets — a claim which was even denied by the White House?” Veltroni said.
“If it had been (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel or (British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown saying such a thing, there would have been a disaster, but as the world knows who he is, nothing happened.”
Veltroni is the first leader of the Democratic Party which was formed last year by merging the former communist Democrats of the Left, with the centrist liberal Daisy Party, excluding hardline communists which failed to win any parliamentary seat.