Italian protesters clash with police at anti-govt rally in Florence

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Protesters initiated violent scuffles with police during a massive rally in the Italian city of Florence. Protests against the government of Matteo Renzi have been going on since October, but this is the first time they have prompted such fierce clashes.

At least three police officers have been injured in the scuffles that started as a group of hooded youths attacked police, local media report, citing the city mayor’s office. The brawls then grew into massive clashes with protesters pelting police with cobblestones, firecrackers and smoke pellets as well as hitting them with sticks.

Police officers in riot gear used pepper spray and batons to disperse the crowd as well as shields to block the young men who were charging them. Some protesters tried to barricade the streets and separate themselves from police by dragging metal fences and waste bins to the streets.

The protests came at a time when Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was holding a traditional meeting with his supporters from the ruling Democratic Party in Florence at the party’s annual convention, called Leopolda. Groups of protesters repeatedly tried to reach the building, where the meeting was held by were stopped by police. Several protesters were arrested.

At the same time, some groups of demonstrators remained peaceful. The people were protesting to demonstrate their opposition to the government of Renzi as well as to the forthcoming referendum on the constitutional reformed proposed by this government.

People were holding banners and placards that read “No to Renzi! No to the referendum!” They were also chanting slogans "No to Renzi," "No to Leopolda" and “Florence says No!” The rallies were joined by people that came from the city of Venice and the region of Campania and Marche.

“We are here to represent the social groups that are not represented at Leopolda,” one of the protesters told Italian media, referring to the Democratic Party convention. The organizers of the demonstrations in Florence also announced that they would hold another “major demonstration” in Rome on November 24.

The violent clashes were condemned by the city authorities and the Interior Ministry. "Demonstrating is a right, but the use of violence is despicable and unacceptable," Florence Mayor Dario Nardella said, as cited by Reuters.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano thanked police officers for their efforts aimed at restoring order in the city and said that the protesters did not execute their right for freedom of expression but instead could “do damage to the city.”

A referendum on constitutional reform proposed by Renzi that envisages reducing the role of the Senate and cutting the powers of regional governments is scheduled for December 4. The plans of the government provoked a furious reaction from Italians that say the constitutional reform would reduce democracy and lead to an excessive concentration of power.

“It is not a perfect reform,” journalist Alessandra Quattrocchi told RT, but still supported the idea of the referendum as changes are really needed in Italian lawmaking.

“The bicameral system as we have it now it makes it very complicated to pass laws, because some laws are constantly blocked in one chamber or the other,” she said.

Many people will vote “No” because “they hope to oust Renzi from our government,” she said, adding that sending a message to Renzi is “the main reason why they are against it.”