Italy approves covid-19 stimulus plan as clashes flare in Rome

Rome police clash with protestors as Italy registers record high number of new covid-19 cases.

Italy has approved a stimulus package worth €5.4 billion to support businesses hit by the government's new restrictions aimed at curbing the second wave of covid-19.

The package, which includes tax breaks, grants and additional funds for temporary lay-off schemes, was announced by premier Giuseppe Conte late on 27 October, the same day that Italy registered almost 22,000 new covid-19 cases, the highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic.

Italy also recorded a steep jump in the number of coronavirus-related deaths, with 221 casualties over the last 24 hours, up from 141 the day before.

The stimulus package came two days after Conte imposed the country's harshest restrictions since the spring lockdown, ordering the closure of bars and restaurants at 18.00 and the total closure of cinemas, theatres and gyms.

This sparked protests in cities across Italy on Monday night by small business owners and workers affected by the restrictions. However in some cases their peaceful demonstrations were hijacked by fringe groups and the protests descended into violence.

With this in mind, Conte's finance minister Roberto Gualtieri moved quickly in a bid to quell rising social tensions, pledging that funds would arrive directly in people's bank accounts, "in record time," by mid-November.

Yesterday evening around 200 people, comprising members of the far-right Forza Nuova group and "ultras" football hooligans, gathered in Rome's central Piazza del Popolo, which was the scene of unrest on 24 October, to protest the covid-19 restrictions and the midnight curfew in Rome and the Lazio region.

Piazza del Popolo yesterday evening. Photo Corriere della Sera.

At around 19.20, after protesters chanted insults against Conte and insulted reporters, riot police charged unexpectedly, driving a water cannon truck into the piazza to dispel the crowd.

Protestors ran through the city gates into Piazzale Flaminio, setting fire to bins, throwing smoke bombs, flares, stones, bottles and even electric scooters at police.

The violence occurred amid the rush-hour traffic. Passing cars were hit by the missiles and a motorcyclist crashed.

The protesters then fled towards the Lungotevere with clashes resuming at around 20.00 on the Regina Margherita bridge. A helicopter flying overhead helped police to locate protesters, with 16 arrests made, according to local media.

"Violence breeds violence and it doesn't bring any good," - said Conte after announcing the stimulus package at Palazzo Chigi - "We must try to face this difficult moment in a constructive way."

Inviting citizens to distance themselves from any violence, Italy's interior minister Luciana Lamorgese said earlier that day: "I believe that the right to demonstrate must always be guaranteed because we are in a democratic state, but at the moment there are extremist fringes that are getting involved to exploit this period of serious pandemic."