ROME (Reuters) - An Italian government minister on Friday said violence during protests in Rome this week was pre-planned by political extremists, and rejected media reports that young people have become disillusioned with politicians.
Some of the worst street riots in Italy for years broke out on Rome’s streets Tuesday as a protest that began peacefully suddenly escalated after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi survived a no-confidence motion in parliament.
Roberto Maroni, interior minister and a member of Berlusconi’s coalition ally the Northern League, told the Senate the protests had been infiltrated by “antagonistic militants” who used them as a vehicle for violence.
He criticised a Rome court’s decision to release 24 people arrested for assaulting police, saying it raised the risk of more protests spiralling out of control.
“These violent people who were arrested and immediately released now have the chance to repeat the violence,” he said.
More protests are expected Wednesday, when the Senate is due to vote on unpopular university reforms which set limits on research, following a series of cuts to education spending.
For several months, students have been protesting throughout Italy against austerity cuts imposed by the centre-right government, matching similar demonstrations around Europe.
Berlusconi told reporters in Brussels Friday that the education reform had not been properly explained to students, but said he did not see any danger of major social unrest.
But Tuesday’s scenes of smoke, teargas and bloodied faces has sparked debate about how much the political class had lost touch with Italy’s real problems while it is absorbed by its own scandals and infighting.
Several protesters have insisted that the violence at the Rome march was spontaneous.
“When the news broke that the government had won the confidence vote by corruption the anger became contagious,” students wrote in Repubblica daily Friday, in a reference to allegations that lawmakers were bribed to back Berlusconi.
“Thousands of people exploded, surprising everyone: a social revolt.”
Berlusconi Friday denied the allegations of vote-buying.
There is no doubt that frustration is mounting among young Italians whose employment prospects are being choked off by the economic crisis.
Youth unemployment, at around 26 percent, is among the highest in the euro zone, while around 37 percent of people aged 15-24 are classified as “inactive,” meaning they neither work nor study, and are not even looking for work.
“Young people study but they know they have no future and that loss of confidence has been transformed into anger which can lead to an escalation of violence,” said university researcher Gianni Piazza.
Maroni said 100 police officers and 28 protesters were injured during clashes. Those arrested come from several Italian regions while one is a French student.
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall