By ALESSANDRA RIZZO and MEERA SELVA, The Associated Press
ROME -- Italian riot police fired tear gas and water cannons Saturday in Rome as violent protesters hijacked a peaceful demonstration against corporate greed, smashing bank windows, torching cars and hurling bottles.
Elsewhere, hundreds of thousands nicknamed "the indignant" marched without incident in cities across Europe, as the "Occupy Wall Street" protests linked up with long-running demonstrations against European governments' austerity measures.
Heavy smoke billowed in downtown Rome as a small group broke away and wreaked havoc in streets close to the Colosseum and elsewhere in the city.
Clad in black with their faces covered, protesters threw rocks, bottles and incendiary devices at banks and Rome police in riot gear. With clubs and hammers, they destroyed bank ATMs, set trash bins on fire and assaulted at least two news crews from Sky Italia.
Riot police charged the protesters repeatedly, firing water cannons and tear gas. Around 70 people were injured, according to news reports, including one man who tried to stop the protesters from throwing bottles.
TV footage showed one young woman with blood covering her face, while the ANSA news agency said a man had lost two fingers when a firecracker exploded.
In the city's St. John in Lateran square, police vans came under attack, with protesters hurling rocks and cobblestones and smashing the vehicles. Fleeing the violence, peaceful protesters stormed up the steps outside the Basilica, one of the oldest in Rome.
"People of Europe: Rise Up!" read one banner in Rome. Some activists turned against the violent group, trying to stop them and shouting "Enough!" and "Shame!"
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno blamed the violence on "a few thousand thugs from all over Italy, and possibly from all over Europe, who infiltrated the demonstration." Some Rome museums were forced to close down and at least one theater canceled a show.
Protesters also set fire to a building, causing the roof to collapse, reports said. The Defense Ministry denied reports it was one of its offices.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi called the violence a "worrying signal," and added that the perpetrators "must be found and punished."
Berlusconi barely survived a confidence vote Friday, with many questioning his leadership. Italy's debt burden is second only to Greece in the 17-nation eurozone and the country is rapidly becoming a focus of concern in Europe's debt crisis.
ANSA said four people from an anarchist group were arrested Saturday with helmets, anti-gas masks, clubs and hundreds of bottles in their car.
Elsewhere, bright autumn sunshine and a social media campaign brought out thousands across Europe.
In Spain, the Indignant Movement that began around-the-clock "occupation" protest camps in May which lasted for weeks held evening marches Saturday that converged on Madrid's Puerta del Sol plaza.
"There is a huge crowd here," said Elsa Varona, whose choir sang an excerpt from Giuseppe Verdi's Nabucco overture as the marchers arrived. Organizers said 300,000 people took part, but police did not offer an estimate.
Other Spanish cities including Barcelona, Seville, Valencia and Malaga hosted similarly well-attended gatherings."
Portuguese protesters angry at their government's handling of the economic crisis pushed against police lines in Lisbon, but officers stopped them from storming parliament. Portugal is one of three European nations - along with Greece and Ireland - that has had to accept an international bailout.
In Frankfurt, continental Europe's financial hub, 5,000 people protested at the European Central Bank, with some setting up a tent camp in front of the ECB building.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange spoke to protesters outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, calling the international banking system a "recipient of corrupt money."
The London demonstration swelled to several thousand people by early evening, and police said three were arrested. While protesters erected tents and gathered blankets, food and water to settle down for the evening, police urged them to leave, saying cathedral staff needed to prepare for Sunday services.
In Paris, marchers shook their fists and shouted as they passed the city's historic stock exchange, before congregating by the hundreds outside the ornate City Hall.
"Stand up Paris! Rise Up!" protesters shouted. "Sharing will save the world!"
The Greek capital of Athens has seen near-daily strikes and protests as the government fights to avoid bankruptcy, and Saturday was no different. Some 2,000 rallied outside parliament against a new austerity package being voted upon on Thursday, while teachers and civil servants held marches elsewhere in the city. In Thessaloniki, Greece's second city, 3,000 took part in a peaceful protest.
Several hundreds more marched in the German cities of Berlin, Cologne and Munich and the Austrian capital of Vienna, while protesters in Zurich, Switzerland's financial hub, carried banners reading "We won't bail you out yet again" and "We are the 99 percent."
That referred to the world's richest one percent, who control billions in assets while billions of others are struggling to make ends meet.
In Brussels, thousands of marched through the downtown chanting "Criminal bankers caused this crisis!" and pelted the stock exchange building with old shoes.
Protesters also accused NATO, which has its headquarters in Brussels, of wasting taxpayer money on the wars in Libya and Afghanistan, saying that one European soldier deployed to Afghanistan costs the equivalent of 11 high school teachers.
Some 300 activists rallied in Helsinki with homemade signs and stalls full of art and food.
Across the Atlantic, hundreds protested near the Toronto Stock Exchange and the headquarters of major Canadian banks to decry what they called government-abetted corporate greed. Protests were also being held in Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax and Winnipeg.
In New York, hundreds marched on a Chase bank to protest the role banks played in the financial crisis, and demonstrations culminated in an "Occupation Party" in Times Square.
In South Africa, about 50 activists rallied outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to demand more jobs, free education and universal healthcare.
Support for the anti-capitalist protest movement was light in Asia, where the global economy is booming. About 300 people turned out in Sydney, while another 200 chanted anti-nuclear slogans outside the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. In the Philippines, 100 people marched on the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
Selva wrote from London. Sylvia Hui in London, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Donna Bryson in Johannesburg, Demitris Nellas in Athens, Oliver Teves in Manila, Harold Heckle in Madrid, Juergen Baetz in Berlin, and David Mac Dougall in Helsinki contributed to this story.
Occupy Wall Street protests accress the world:
03/20/2012 6:12 PM EDT
Trouble At Occupied Apartment Building Splits Occupy Miami
Via HuffPost Miami:
When an Occupy Miami member offered evicted protestors vacant apartments in a building he owns in Downtown Miami's Overtown neighborhood, it seemed like the perfect solution: the 'Peace City' space would provide headquarters for the movement and shelter a small faction of the group's most vulnerable members. But it hasn't gone well. Other tenants say the building has become a cesspool of drug use and violence while non-resident Occupy Miami members are trying to distance themselves from the 'radicals' -- all while the two factions are wrestling for control over Occupy Miami's social media sites and future plans.
The feud between the Overtown occupiers and more mainstream members has only gotten worse. The two factions are now battling for control of Occupy Miami's social media sites. The movement's main Twitter account recently announced it had been "hijacked by a small, non-consensus group of radical members." The Occupy Miami Facebook page was also temporarily hacked by someone inside Peace City. Meanwhile, the Overtown occupation is slowly driving away more moderate members.
"This is a black eye on the Occupy movement," says Shannon Reaze, an Overtown community organizer and Occupy Miami supporter who is now helping tenants move out of Paz's building. "The violence and drugs going on here are way outside of what I thought Occupy stood for. This place is destabilized."
...The supposedly hard-core activists here spend their days drinking and getting high. And as Peace City devolves into lawlessness, the most committed occupiers are leaving. Local landowners and politicians want the place shut down, while cops are suspicious. Yet as long as Paz wants the protesters around, nothing short of a demolition order can keep them out.
03/19/2012 6:32 PM EDT
Occupy DC Protesters Sue MPD
Via HuffPost DC:
WASHINGTON -- Occupy DC has a new lawsuit involving tents on its hands. But it doesn't involve temporary structures in McPherson Square.
Two protesters arrested during a February action outside Merrill Lynch's offices on 15th Street NW near McPherson Square have filed suit against the Metropolitan Police Department, Legal Times reports. (Read the complaint here.)
The plaintiffs, Samuel Dukore and Kelly Canavan, were part of a "targeted occupation" of Merrill Lynch on Feb. 13 where protesters were raising awareness about Merrill Lynch's reportedly close ties with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issa, for his part, claims that the reports of these close ties are "wildly inaccurate."
Full story here.
03/19/2012 12:20 PM EDT
Occupy Wall Street Attempts To Occupy Union Square
OWS reports via its website:
After the brutal attack on the attempted re-occupation of Liberty Square by NYPD on the 6-month anniversary of #OWS, a number of Occupiers have relocated their base of occupation to Union Square in midtown Manhattan, a point of convergence for several #OWS protests over the past 6 months.
According to reports on the ground, several dozen people slept in the park after the illegal and violent raid on Liberty Square. Over 70 people remain, now on Day 3. Although tents and tables are still banned, Occupiers have brought blankets and sleeping gear. Many are calling it ¨the new Occupation.¨ In addition to holding General Assemblies, Union Square Occupiers are providing vital jail support for those arrested on #M17 as they are released from NYPD custody. So far, the NYPD has made no attempt to remove Occupiers or prevent them from sleeping in the park.
03/18/2012 10:35 AM EDT
Watch: Another Video Documenting Woman's Arrest
03/18/2012 10:34 AM EDT
NY Observer ID's Victim
The woman had the apparent seizure has been identified by the New York Observer as Cecily McMillan:
Cecily McMillan, an Occupy Wall Street activist once profiled in Rolling Stone, suffered a seizure Saturday night during protest action near Zuccotti Park. Many on-scene reported Ms. McMillan had trouble breathing after she was tackled and handcuffed by law enforcement.
A video uploaded to Youtube late Saturday night purports to show the attack. Two women can be heard commenting, “There’s Cecily,” then there is confusion as the police clearly perform a violent take-down on someone in the crowd.
According to Jeff Sharlet’s November, 2011 article about the Occupy Movement, this may be Ms. McMillan’s second violent encounter with police.
To read the full story, go here.
03/18/2012 10:33 AM EDT
Watch: Woman Who Had Apparent Seizure Brutalized By Police
Cops caught on video about 10 seconds in taking down the woman who had the apparent seizure:
03/18/2012 10:32 AM EDT
'Stop Pushing Us!'
Watch video from inside Zuccotti Park as police moved in late last night:
- Show quoted text -
03/18/2012 10:31 AM EDT
New York Times Reports Alleged Police Abuse
The paper reports from last night's chaos at Zuccotti Park:
At one point, a woman who appeared to be suffering from seizures flopped on the ground in handcuffs as bystanders shouted for the police to remove the cuffs and provide medical attention. For several minutes the woman lay on the ground as onlookers made increasingly agonized demands until an ambulance arrived and the woman was placed inside.
By 12:20 a.m., a line of officers pushed against some of the remaining protesters, forcing them south on Broadway, at times swinging batons and shoving people to the ground.
Kobi Skolnick, 30, said that officers pushed him in several directions and that as he tried to walk away, he was struck from behind in the neck. “One of the police ran and hit me with a baton,” he said.
To read the full story, go here.