Genoa: Armed with bottles and bricks, the balaclava mob wages war

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Anarchists and extremists laid waste to Genoa for the second day yesterday as an unprecedented police contingent failed to prevent serious violence and destruction.

Anarchists and extremists laid waste to Genoa for the second day yesterday as an unprecedented police contingent failed to prevent serious violence and destruction. After the death of a protester on Friday, there was little hope that a demonstration by hundreds of thousands of anti-globalisation protesters would pass off peacefully.

Violent elements had signaled their intention to cause as much chaos as possible from early yesterday. In the morning, members of the Black Bloc contingent struck areas far from the super-protected Red Zone where G8 leaders are meeting. They raided building sites near the city prison, to grab beams and bricks, before trashing shops and offices. Whereas Friday's violence was carried out mainly by balaclava-clad youths of the Black Bloc, the players in yesterday's battle included many Italians. The death of Carlo Giuliani had hardened the stance of many. Anarchists, squatters and members of the White Overalls faction hurled bottles, rocks and rubbish bins at the police who chased them in a savage game of cat and mouse through the deserted streets.

Trouble erupted yesterday shortly after the start of the colourful march that was meant to symbolise the voice of the peaceful masses. As rainbow-clad environmentalists, flag-waving communists and Christian groups moved along the seafront, the police formed a blockade to make them deviate along the authorised procession route. Most of the protesters moved obediently into the side streets but about 2,000 kept pressing forward. There were clashes as rioters broke away from the main body and it was split in two. Most of the action took place far from the Red Zone, the square mile that was being defended with a 12ft-high steel fence, police tanks and trucks with bulldozer attachments.

From the wall of police tanks, trucks and officers came an abrupt response – tear gas canisters fired at head level and a charge back along the seafront. Contingents of carabinieri and local police were forced to race from one flashpoint to another.

The breakaway group sparked hours of guerrilla warfare. As the bulk of the procession continued peacefully on its way, pitched battles began in Piazzale Kennedy. An immense black curtain of smoke hung against the clear blue sky. Youths wearing balaclavas, kefiahs and helmets set to work. Tens of shops and offices were smashed, leaving a carpet of glass on the footpaths. Molotov cocktails were hurled at police in riot shields and helmets. Vehicles were overturned and burned and plastic chairs and rubbish skips turned into improvised barricades. Cameramen and photographers, some of them wearing gas masks, dodged the hail of stones to recount what was happening.


The Genoa Social Forum set up its own "security service" to try to isolate and thwart the Black Bloc, who work in small groups. However, they were not always successful. At Piazza Rossetti, the balaclava-clad youths managed to break from the procession and smash cars and windows, and set fire to a bank. As the peaceful demonstrators yelled at them "Basta!" ("Enough!") they were threatened with firebombs. Ambulances were blocked by fires set in two key underpassages near Brignole station, the scene of much of Friday's chaos.


The march, organised by the Genoa Social Forum, dispersed around 4.30pm and organisers boasted that there were 300,000 marchers. More than 300 people were injured over the two days: protesters, journalists and policemen. Meanwhile, small factions bent on violence clashed with the police into the night.