Taxis are vehemently protesting against the liberalisation of taxi licences and rates approved by the government on Friday, causing havoc countrywide including Fiumicino, where hundreds of tourists were left stranded yesterday and since 8am this morning.

Around 300 unsuspecting tourists had to wait for over an hour in the heat yesterday and only the arrival of the traffic police ensured the reluctant reappearance of some taxis.

The white taxi cabs also deserted St. Peters yesterday forcing the many tourists present in the city to opt for the metro or bus service.

A national strike has been proclaimed for 11 July but in Rome, Milan, Turin and Genoa protests and taxi abandonment of stations and airports has been going on since Saturday.

But Prodi insists, We will go ahead with liberalisation.

The Decreto Bersani was passed last Friday. Consumers and political parties are in large part favourable to this reform which will ensure more taxis.Twenty percent of complaints we receive are about the scarcity of taxis, both on the street and requests over the telephone, says Giuseppe Scaramuzza, secretary of citizens rights organisation Cittadinanzattiva. Rome only has one taxi per 457 inhabitants compared to Milan who has one in 286 and London one every 120. Add to this the thousands of businessmen and tourists that flood our capital daily, one can see that this is insufficient, he continues.

Rome has one of the most expensive taxi rates in the world and the ripping off of tourists, especially to and from the airports, is commonplace. For a five kilometre ride (with a suitcase) one can expect to pay 11-12 in London, 12-14 in Madrid and Berlin, 14 in Paris and 16-17 in New York. In Milan, the cost rises to 18 and in Rome 19-20.