ROME - Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across the globe on Saturday to denounce bankers, politicians and businessmen for ruining the world's economies, with violence breaking out in Rome as angry protestors torched cars and smashed bank windows.
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Galvanized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, the protests began in New Zealand, touched parts of Asia, spread to Europe, and ultimately resumed at their starting point in New York.
The demonstrations by the disaffected coincided with the Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where finance ministers and central bankers from major economies were holding talks on the debt and deficit crises afflicting many Western countries.
While most rallies were small and barely held up traffic, the Rome event
drew tens of thousands of people and snaked through the city center for
Hundreds of hooded, masked demonstrators rampaged in some of the worst
violence seen in the Italian capital for years, setting cars ablaze,
breaking bank and shop windows and destroying traffic lights and
Police fired volleys of tear gas and used water cannon to try to
disperse militant protesters who were hurling rocks, bottles and
fireworks, but clashes went on into the evening.
Smoke bombs set off by protesters cast a pall over a sea of red flags
and banners bearing slogans denouncing economic policies the protesters
say are hurting the poor most.
The violence sent many peaceful demonstrators and local residents near
the Colosseum and St John's Basilica running into hotels and churches
for safety.Most rallies are peaceful
In contrast, small and peaceful rallies got the ball rolling across the
Asia-Pacific region on Saturday. In Auckland, New Zealand's biggest
city, 3,000 people chanted and banged drums, denouncing corporate greed.
About 200 gathered in the capital Wellington and 50 in a park in the earthquake-hit southern city of Christchurch.
In Sydney, about 2,000 people, including representatives of Aboriginal
groups, communists and trade unionists, protested outside the central
Reserve Bank of Australia.
Hundreds marched in Tokyo, including anti-nuclear protesters. In Manila a
few dozen marched on the US Embassy waving banners reading: "Down with
US imperialism" and "Philippines not for sale".
More than 100 people gathered at the Taipei stock exchange, chanting "we
are Taiwan's 99 percent" and saying economic growth had only benefited
firms while middle-class salaries barely covered soaring housing,
education and health care costs.
In Hong Kong, home to the Asian headquarters of investment banks such as
Goldman Sachs, over 100 people gathered at Exchange Square in the
Central district. Students joined with retirees, holding banners that
called banks a cancer.
In Paris, around 1,000 protesters rallied in front of city hall,
coinciding with the G20 finance chiefs' meeting, after coming in from
the working class neighborhood of Belleville where drummers, trumpeters
and a tuba revved up the crowd.
"This is potentially the start of a strong movement," said Olivier
Milleron, a doctor whose group of trumpeters played the classic American
folk song "This land is your land."
Waitress Tiodhilde Fernagu, 26, took a day off work to attend. "For the
first time in France there is a uniquely citizens' movement" outside
party politics, she said.'The indignant ones'
The Rome protesters, who called themselves "the indignant ones", included unemployed, students and pensioners.
"I am here to show support for those don't have enough money to make it
to the next pay check while the ECB (European Central Bank) keeps
feeding the banks and killing workers and families," said Danila
Cucunia, a 43-year-old teacher from northern Italy.
"We can't carry on any more with public debt that wasn't created by us
but by thieving governments, corrupt banks and speculators who don't
give a damn about us," said Nicla Crippa, 49.
"They caused this international crisis and are still profiting from it. They should pay for it."
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi condemned the violence, saying the culprits would be identified and punished.
In imitation of the occupation of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in
Manhattan, protesters have been camped out across the street from the
headquarters of the Bank of Italy for days.
The worldwide protests were a response in part to calls by the New York
demonstrators for more people to join them. Their example has prompted
calls for similar occupations in dozens of US cities from Saturday.
In Madrid, around 2,000 people had gathered for a march to the central
Puerta del Sol. Placards read: "Put the bankers on the bench" and
"Enough painkillers -- euthanasia for the banks".
"It's not fair that they take your house away from you if you can't pay
your mortgage, but give billions to the banks for unclear reasons," said
44-year-old telecoms company employee Fabia, who declined to give her
Thousands of protesters also gathered in Barcelona and local radio said,
and further demonstrations were planned in more than 60 Spanish towns
in the evening.
In Germany, where sympathy for southern Europe's debt troubles is not
widespread, thousands gathered in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and outside
the ECB in Frankfurt.
Demonstrators gathered peacefully in Paradeplatz, the main square in the Swiss financial center of Zurich.
In London, around 2,000 people assembled outside St Paul's Cathedral,
near the City financial district, for a rally dubbed "Occupy the London
Joe Dawson, 31, who lost his job as a product developer at Barclays
Bank, said he had taken his two children aged 10 and 8 to the rally to
show them people had a voice.
"I'm not passive anymore and I don't want them to be. This is their
future too," Dawson said. "I work four jobs part-time, I take whatever I
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told the crowd: "I hope this protest
will result in a similar process to what we saw in New York, Cairo and
Tunisia," he said, referring to revolutions in the Arab world.
Hundreds of Greek protesters with banners bearing slogans like "Greece
is not for sale" assembled for an anti-austerity rally in Athens'
Syntagma Square, the scene of violent clashes between riot police and
stone-throwing youths in June.
"What is happening (debt-driven financial meltdown) in Greece now is the
nightmare awaiting other countries in the future. Solidarity is the
people's weapon," the Real Democracy protest group said.
Crowds numbering several hundred also staged protests in Vienna and Helsinki.
In New York City, hundreds of protesters marched on JP Morgan Chase bank
buildings in the financial district, banging drums and chanting, "We
got sold out, banks got bailed out."