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Violent protests overshadow opening of Milan Expo

Demonstrators have thrown stones at police and set fire to vehicles while the authorities have responded with tear gas at the opening of Expo 2015. National pavilions have also experienced staffing and supply difficulty.

Clashes between demonstrators and police marred the opening of

the Milan Expo 2015.

Just a few hours after Italian premier Matteo Renzi hailed an Italy "embracing the world," clouds of smoke from burning cars and tear gas rose over the purpose-built site on the outskirts of the city.

The "No Expo"

protesters were angry

over the 6-month fair's reliance on volunteer workers and corporate support from brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald's at an event whose theme is "Feeding the Planet." They kept their faces covered as they threw stones and torched cars and garbage bins.

"Our generation does not want this corporate bull----," one protester, who wished to remain anonymous, told French news agency AFP.

Even Pope Francis, in remarks on the opening ceremony, alluded to the irony of companies like McDonalds sponsoring a spectacle devoted to sustainability and feeding the needy. "In certain ways, the Expo itself is part of the paradox of abundance, it obeys the culture of waste and does not contribute to a model of equitable and sustainable development," said the pontiff.

Organizers insisted that the problem would be taken care of quickly, but exhibitors were also experiencing problems of their own.

'A lot of disinformation'

The Belgian pavilion was forced to open without any of the country's famous beer and French fries, as the warehouse which housed them was shut off temporarily for a security sweep. "We feel a bit let down. There has been a lot of disinformation," said Sebastian Steven, manager of the pavilion's restaurant.

Similarly, visitors faced 90-minute waits to enter the fair, due to ticketing software problems and the airport-style security apparatus.

Bangladesh, meanwhile, was having personnel issues because "the chefs and other staff were all due to come from Bangladesh and the Italians have not granted their visas."

These hiccups marked a bittersweet opening to the first world fair since Shanghai 2010. Organizers estimate that 20 million visitors will come to see Expo 2015 before it closes at the end of October, adding a 10-billion euro boost to Italy's stagnant economy. More than 140 countries are taking part, with China, an increasing business presence in Italy, being especially well represented.

es/jil (AFP, Reuters)

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