What began as a peaceful protest inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement soon descended into chaos on Saturday when a group of rioters broke away and caused mayhem.
Tens of thousands of citizens gathered at the Colosseum to march in protest against monetary policy and unequal wealth distribution. Within minutes of the march beginning, a group of rioters dubbed “Black Bloc” began to part from the crowd. The anarchist group lit cars on fire and broke windows along the protest route.
Wearing masks, black hoodies, and motorcycle helmets, the group of 200 to 300 rioters hijacked what had been planned as a peaceful demonstration.
Other protestors challenged the extremist group and tried to restrain rioters, shouting “No to violence!”
As the day progressed, the violent acts intensified. Rudimentary bombs were used to set fire to unoccupied cars along the protest route. The fires soon spread to at least one building, rumored to be an annex of the Department of Defense.
ATMs were destroyed, bank windows attacked with bats, and one grocery stores looted. At least a dozen cars were set alight, including an armored police van.
Police seemed unprepared for the violent turn and have been criticized for being slow to intervene. As the rioters fled towards San Giovanni, police used water cannons and tear gas to contain them.
135 people were injured in the riots, including 30 policemen. Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, has estimated the damage to public property to be at least 1 million Euros. A Roman business organization has said that the damage done to shops and other businesses will exceed 1 million Euros as well.
The violent protests came just one day after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi survived a narrow confidence vote. The premier managed to get the bare minimum votes needed to continue running the government.
Authorities have vowed to bring the rioters to justice.