Tens of thousands of people gathered in Rome for a rally organized by the "Sardines." The movement denounces Italy's far-right leader Matteo Salvini and his anti-immigration policies.
The "Sardines", a movement started in reaction to the far-right policies of Italy's Lega (League) party and its leader Matteo Salvini, held their largest rally to date in Rome on Saturday.
The rally began Saturday afternoon in Rome's Piazza San Giovanni, where thousands of people gathered. Local media estimated that some 100,000 people attended.
The movement got its start on November 14, when four activists organized a rally in Bologna to protest the rhetoric of "hatred and division" coming from Salvini's anti-immigration League party.
To everyone's surprise, more than 15,000 demonstrators showed up to the original protest. The movement's name was coined by the fact that people were packed together like sardines in the square where the rally was held.
In the following weeks, dozens of protests were held in cities such as Milan, Florence, Naples and Palermo, drawing tens of thousands of protesters.
"The time has come in which people can no longer stay passively at home, it's time to take a stand," said one of the founders of the movement.
A party-free movement
Sardine representative in Rome Stephen Ogongo, a 45-year-old journalist of Kenyan origin, said that the far-right leader had "allowed the worst forms of racism" to flourish.
Demonstrators are also protesting the mafia, climate change and poverty in Italy.
The movement is not tied to a specific political party. At rallies, demonstrators sing the famous anti-fascist Italian song "Bella Ciao."
Mattia Santori, one of the movement's organizers, said he hopes it will provide "a new energy in a form that is freer and more spontaneous" than a political party.
Growing right-wing support
The Sardine Movement emerged as a reaction to growing support in the north of Italy for a right-wing coalition led by Salvini.
Recently, Salvini's League has gained support in traditional left-wing strongholds, as in central Umbria, where the party achieved a historic victory in a regional vote in October.
The League is also polling competitively in the northeastern region of Emilio Romagna, another left-wing bastion and birthplace of the Sardines, and should pose a significant challenge to the current center-left government in elections in January.
Salvini has stated that he wants to garner support in every region of Italy to topple the current coalition between the Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party and thereby force new elections.
kp/rc (AFP, dpa)