ROME (Reuters) - Demonstrators from the quake-stricken city of L‘Aquila clashed with police Wednesday before reaching Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s house to demand more state help to rebuild their lives.
The protest by some 5,000 people paralysed the centre of the Rome and was a major blow for Berlusconi, who has repeatedly presented his hands-on response to the April 2009 quake as one of the main successes of his two-year-old government.
Two people were slightly injured as police in riot gear tried to control the crowd, which managed to bring their protest right outside Berlusconi’s private residence.
“Shame on you!” the demonstrators shouted.
“We came here to collectively ask for help and we are being beaten,” said L‘Aquila mayor Massimo Cialente.
Residents of L‘Aquila, where more than 300 people were killed in the disaster, complain about the slow reconstruction of their medieval city and want the government to extend tax exemptions for the victims.
Berlusconi, who has built his political career as Italy’s “Mr Fix It,” often boasts on television that new houses in the devastated city were built in record time.
He hosted last year’s G8 summit in L‘Aquila in a show of solidarity for the victims.
But residents say that after an initial flurry of headline-grabbing initiatives many have been left to fend for themselves as reconstruction money ran out.
“The ”House Project“ is a joke. Only a few people were given new homes. The rest of us are still in the same situation. There are no projects to rebuild the historic centre. L‘Aquila is a dead city and we have been forgotten,” said one demonstrator.
Pierluigi Bersani, the head of the largest opposition party, and former anti-graft magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, who now heads a smaller opposition party, came out of parliament to show their support for the protesters.
The demonstrators also fear that a government austerity budget aimed at reducing the deficit will be a double blow to them because it plans to cut funds to Italy’s regions.
“We lost everything and they took us for a ride,” another demonstrator shouted.
writing by Silvia Aloisi; additional reporting by Antonio Denti and Cristiano Corvino; Editing by Philip Pullella and Charles Dick