Accusations fly in wake of Rome riots

Police yesterday raided hundreds of homes across Italy, from Milan to Palermo, in search of far-left Black Bloc activists who trashed areas of central Rome during Saturday's anti-capitalism protests.

Police yesterday raided hundreds of homes across Italy, from Milan to Palermo, in search of far-left Black Bloc activists who trashed areas of central Rome during Saturday's anti-capitalism protests.

Amid claims that the perpetrators of the violence had received guerrilla warfare training in Athens, ministers said anti-terrorism laws might be invoked to crack down on the culprits. But with the country still stunned at the ferocity of Saturday's violence, accusation and counter-accusation sprang up on how the rioters, dubbed “anarcho-insurrectionists” by the Italian press, were able to run amok for so long.

The rioters used clubs and sledgehammers to smash banks and shops, torched police and private vehicles and hurled rocks, before the police with tear gas, water cannon and batons were finally able to quell the violence.

More than 100 of the 135 people injured were police officers. And only 12 people were arrested on Saturday, leading to accusations that authorities had completely mishandled the situation. This was denied by the junior interior minister Alfredo Mantovano.

But despite hundreds of homes being raided by lunchtime yesterday, just six more people were detained, adding to the impression that police had had failed to keep tabs on the loose-knit network of Black Bloc activists, described by mainstream newspapers, including La Stampa, as coming largely from the extremist fringes of Italy's many left-wing social centres.

Photos began to spring up across the internet showing groups of Black Bloc protesters wearing the same black crash helmets, several hundred strong, milling in the capital before the violence started. These appeared to undermine claims by the authorities that the violent demonstrators could not have been isolated and stopped sooner.

One theory expressed by some peaceful activists and politicians was that the authorities had initially allowed the violent demonstrators to cause problems in order to discredit the mainstream demonstration -- without realising how well organised the rioters actually were.

Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate and leader of the opposition Italy of Values Party, said serious questions had to be asked about the police response.

“Whoever took charge of the situation in the interior ministry, including the minister, underestimated the situation," he said. "Either he was unable to provide sufficient prevention and infiltration or he did not want to perform this role. And perhaps this raises questions that the rioters were not stopped in order to divert attention away from the democratic significance of the main demonstration.”

One Black Bloc rioter interviewed by La Repubblica newspaper said that he received training in “urban guerrilla warfare” with fellow anarchists during trips to Greece over the past 12 months and he warned that the "war is not over."

"We've been wanting to smash everything up for about a year. Now we know how to do it. In Rome, we won because we had a plan," said the 30-year-old referred to only as "F". He added that rioters in Rome had split into two groups to fool police into thinking there were fewer of them than there really were, and had stashed weapons in strategic locations for use against the security forces.

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