New leaders face tough tests on streets
Anti-austerity protesters clashed with riot police yesterday as Italy's new premier appealed to Italians to accept sacrifices to save their country from bankruptcy. And in Greece police used tear gas against youths protesting in Athens.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is under enormous pressure to boost growth and bring down Italy's high debt, not only to save the country from succumbing to the debt crisis but to prevent a disintegration of the euro.
"Europe is experiencing the most difficult days since the end of the Second World War," Mr Monti told parliament in his debut address. "Let's not fool ourselves that the European project can survive if the monetary union fails."
He pledged to reform the pension system, reimpose a tax on first homes, fight tax evasion, cut the costs of politics, streamline civil court proceedings and get more women and youth into the workforce.
The 68-year-old economist and university president described three pillars of his strategy -- budgetary rigour, economic growth and social fairness.
But outside, Rome's historic centre was paralysed by student protests, and in the financial capital of Milan, riot police struggled to stop protesters trying to reach the Bocconi University over which he presides, signalling the resistance the new leader will have to confront.
In Milan, protesters tried to enter the Italian banker's association office. "The government of the banks," read one placard held by a youth.
Demonstrators in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, hurled eggs and smoke bombs at a bank, and protesters threw rocks at police.
And riot police in Turin reported several officers injured as they held back protesters trying to break through barriers.
In Greece, meanwhile, riot police fired tear gas against hooded protesters during an anti-austerity march yesterday, one day after a national unity government took office charged with imposing painful tax rises and spending cuts.
At least 50,000 people marched past shuttered shops in central Athens beating drums, waving red flags and chanting "EU, IMF out!" in the first public test for technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos' fractious three-party coalition.
Youths hurled stones and petrol bombs at baton-wielding police. Schools, universities and many businesses stayed shut for the day and public transport was badly disrupted. A smaller protest rally took place in Thessaloniki, Greece's second city.
Police detained dozens of protesters in Athens but, despite the clashes, said the rally had passed relatively peacefully.
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