Italy: Protests flare in Florence over covid-19 restrictions

Florence mayor condemns violence and vandalism in historic centre in "surreal, terrible and painful night" for Tuscan city.

Protesters clashed with police in central Florence last night during an unauthorised protest over Italy's latest restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of covid-19.

The protest, which was organised via social media, comprised around 200 people and resulted in violence and vandalism in the historic centre of the city, including the streets around Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria.

The demonstrators chanted "Libertà" as well as slogans against Italy's premier Giuseppe Conte before throwing paper bombs, flares, glass bottles and molotov cocktails at riot police who responded by charging.

Protesters also trashed rental bicycles, overturned flower boxes and tables and chairs belonging to bars and restaurants, sprayed graffiti and allegedly smashed the windows of a police car, reports Italian news agency ANSA.

Before the protest kicked off, many shops in the centre - particularly luxury boutiques - rushed to board up their windows over fears of damage and looting, similar to what took place during recent demonstrations in Turin.

Florence last night. Photo credit Claudio Giovannini - ANSA.

Police blocked a group of protesters from advancing towards the Uffizi Galleries, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, with about 20 people arrested in the end.

The violence and destruction was condemned strongly by the mayor of the Tuscan capital, Dario Nardella, who said he has never seen "such a situation" in his city.

Photo Gianni Pasquini / IPA. Credit: FOTOGRAMMA.

"Tonight a minority of people who came intentionally to provoke and seek clashes put a real strain on our city," said Nardella, who acknowledged the "fatigue and anger" but insisted that "whoever disfigures Florence must pay for what they have done."

"There have been many demonstrations, but peaceful, and what angers me most is to see that there is someone trying to exploit this anger" - the mayor said - "This is not acceptable."

Italy's new restrictions, which oblige bars and restaurants to close at 18.00 as well as the total closure of cinemas and gyms, also saw more than 300 people gather in protest last night in Bologna, the capital of the northern Emilia-Romagna region.

The demonstration passed off without incident despite the presence of "ultras" from the Bologna Football Club, reports ANSA.

Italy has seen a wave of protests in cities across the country over the last week, including in Rome, Milan and Naples, since the government announced its third emergency decree in two weeks on 25 October.

Last night's clashes in Florence came hours after Italy registered 31,079 new coronavirus infections in the previous 24 hours, the highest number since the start of the outbreak, raising the prospect of lockdown in the near future.

Italy's wave of protests

Italy's recent wave of protests by workers hard-hit by the latest restrictions, including small business owners and self-employed people, are for the most part peaceful but continue to be infiltrated by fringe groups intent on causing trouble.

The violent element is not "centrally organised" but is orchestrated by "separate groups of far-right and far-left extremists, soccer ultras and criminal elements," according to the findings of a recent national committee for public order and security meeting, chaired by Italy's interior minister Luciana Lamorgese.

Stimulus package

On 27 October Conte unveiled 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, comes amid rising social tensions in Italy.