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Rome left picking up the pieces after violent protests

Shopkeepers are clearing up the mess after violent clashes in the Italian capital left dozens injured following Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's narrow win in Tuesday's no-confidence vote.

Burning vehicles

Dozens of vehicles were set alight on Tuesday

Shopkeepers and city workers in Rome are picking up the pieces following Tuesday night's violent clashes with the police.

Italy's interior minister defended the conduct of the police after the riots in Rome's historic center shocked Italy.

Scores of cars were set alight, shop windows were smashed and around 100 people were injured in clashes between demonstrators and police. Authorities said 26 people were arrested and charged.

The violence erupted close to parliament buildings where a key confidence vote on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was being held. The government eventually won by just 3 votes.

Protest in the Piazza del Popolo

Berlusconi has faced days of protests

"What happened yesterday was not an expression of freedom. It was an attack by organized groups of hooligans," Berlusconi said on Wednesday.

For Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, police in Rome showed restraint in dealing with the violence.

"I can say that in the end things went well," Maroni told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "Someone could have been killed."

Maroni blamed the riots on leftist extremists who had infiltrated a student march.

Critics said that by keeping the demonstrators away from the parliament buildings, police had allowed the demonstrators to rampage in other parts of the city.

Damage to Rome's historic center

The riots were concentrated around the main Via del Corso and the central Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Venezia that are normally filled with tourists.

The streets were left scattered with debris, including burnt-out cars, melted bicycles and broken shop glass.

More than 90 people were hurt, and 60 taken to hospital after the clashes. A number of police officers were among those who were injured.

The demonstration had begun as a peaceful march by students angry that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had narrowly survived the confidence vote earlier in the day.

Opposition members accused the leader of having bought votes and blackmailed potential dissenters in order to stay in power.

However, the peaceful march was hijacked by a small core of violent protesters. Members of a violent group known as The Black Bloc took over, throwing cobblestones, bottles and metal poles at police. They also set fire to a number of vehicles.

Costly repairs

Shopkeepers have begun assessing the damage. Instead of welcoming Christmas shoppers, Luca Spieza spent Wednesday sifting through a pile of mangled glasses that were on display in the window of his optician's shop. He described what happened when the Black Bloc arrived:

"My car was burning in front of my shop," Speiza told Deutsche Welle. "On the right side, police, on the left, young people and in front there was a fire."

Speiza's own car was set on fire and he and his elderly father were trapped in his smoke-filled shop for almost half an hour. He estimated the damage to his merchandise, car and shop to total around 20,000 euros ($27,000).

Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno said the clashes were "shocking" and likened them to the "gratuitous violence that was on the streets of Rome in the 1970s and that I hoped never to see again."

Alemanno estimated the damage at 20 million euros.

Parliament blocked off

One place where protesters did not make their mark was the area around Italy's parliament. Dozens of police vans and hundreds of officers blocked off the zone to anyone except politicians and reporters.

Center-left politician Niki Vendola sees cordoned-off area as a metaphor for how out-of-touch the current government is.

"Barricading the parliamentary palace brings to mind medieval times, when the sovereigns were separate and untouchable," Vendola told Deutsche Welle. "This shows how Italy is living a modern version of medieval times."

Two influential Italian newspapers, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera said that early elections were the likely outcome of the current political unrest in Italy. The current Berlusconi government took power in 2008 with a mandate set to run until 2013.

Author: Megan Williams, Rome; Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner

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