Protests as Mario Monti crisis plan looms

 

As protests erupted in Rome and other cities, Italy's new premier
unveiled his economic plan, vowing to spur growth yet fairly
spread the sacrifices Italians must accept to save their country from
bankruptcy and the eurozone from a disastrous collapse.

As Mario Monti spoke, riot police clashed with anti-austerity protesters in Milan, signaling the depths of resistance the economist-turned-premier will have to overcome if his plan is to succeed.

"The end of the euro would cause the disintegration of the united market," the former European Union competition commissioner told the Senate ahead of a confidence vote on his one-day-old government. "The future of the euro also depends on what Italy will do in the next weeks. Also, not only."

Monti formed his new government Wednesday, shunning politicians and turning to fellow professors, bankers and business executives to fill key cabinet posts.

A day later he revealed plans to fight tax evasion, lower costs for companies so they can hire more and possibly lower taxes rates for women, to encourage their increased participation in the work place. Hee warned Italians they must brace for more "sacrifices," including the probable return of a property tax on primary residences.

"We must convince the markets we have started going down the road of a lasting reduction in the ratio of public debt to GDP. And to reach this objective we have three priorities: budgetary rigor, growth and fairness," Monti said.

He said he would quickly work on lowering Italy's staggering public debt, which now stands (euro) 1.9 trillion ($2.6 trillion), about 120 percent of its GDP.

"But we won't be credible if we don't start to grow," Monti said.

His administration must restore confidence in the country's financial future and avoid contagion that would worsen the eurozone's debt crisis. Italy's spiraling financial crisis helped bring down media mogul Silvio Berlusconi's 3 1/2 year-old government last week, after months of squabbling over how to save Italy from financial ruin.

Monti's choice of unelected experts for his Cabinet and the prospect of tough reforms have fueled unrest. In cities from north to south, students clashed with police in protests against feared budget cuts Thursday, while previously planned transport strikes idled buses and trains.
Police in riot gear scuffled with students in Milan, as they tried to march to Bocconi University, which educates Italy's business elite. Monti is Bocconi's president.

"The government of the banks," read one placard held by a youth in Milan.

In Palermo, Sicily, demonstrators hurled eggs and smoke bombs at a bank, and protesters threw rocks at police who battled back with pepper spray, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. One protester was injured in the head in Palermo, where police charged demonstrators who were trying to occupy another bank.

In Rome, hundreds of students gathered outside Sapienza University, while others assembled near the main train station. They marched toward the Senate, where lawmakers were holding a confidence vote in the evening on the new government.

Riot police in Turin reported several police injuries as they held back protesters trying to break through barriers in three locations.

Last week, parliament gave final approval to a package that will reform pensions, slash state spending and open up the economy. But Monti strongly suggested that much harsher medicine was needed to heal Italy's finances and revive the stubbornly stagnant economy.

He indicated Italians would be paying new taxes. Italy's lack of a property tax on primary residences — a move backed by Berlusconi— is "a peculiarity, if not an anomaly" in Europe, Monti said.

Monti, who also is serving as finance and economy minister, said if Italy fails to grow and does not stay united, "the spontaneous evolution of the financial crisis will subject us all, above all the weakest, to far harsher conditions."

He pledged to tackle chronic and widespread tax evasion to increase revenue, but also to further his goal of social fairness. Hiding or underreporting income by the self-employed is rampant in Italy, and workers with paychecks have long complained they bear an unfair share of the nation's high taxes.

Monti said his government would consider reforms to lower Italy's "elevated" tax rates. Employers say high payroll taxes discourage them from hiring.

In the workplace, Monti called for structural reforms but added "we must avoid the anguish which accompanies it."

The question of how long Monti's government will last has sparked intense debate among Italy's political parties.

Some, like Berlusconi's longtime ally the Northern League, refuse to back Monti's government. Monti has said he intends to govern until the legislative period expires in the spring 2013. The League, which is strong in the affluent north, wants elections earlier.

Holding both thumbs down — in a sign of rejection — at the end of Monti's speech was Senator Roberto Calderoli, a Northern League leader.

Pro-Catholic parties have said they would give "carte blanche" to the Monti government.

Some in Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom Party have called for early elections, but top party officials have said they will support Monti in parliament to achieve anti-crisis measures.

Monti indicated he was looking for wide support among Italians.

To encourage more women in jobs — at 40 percent, the rate of Italian women in the workforce is one of Europe's lowest — he said he would consider lower tax rates for them.

In Rome, protester Titti Mazzacane said she was skeptical about the new government. While Monti chose "decent and competent people," the government ... "is a little bit too free-market liberal. I am a bit scared," said the 53-year-old elementary school teacher.

Public schools have been hard hit by budget cuts from previous Italian governments.

Antonio Romano, who was distributing leaflets to protesters, said the government's strategy is "make the workers and retired people pay for the crisis, not those who provoked the crisis. I mean big business, bankers."

A transit strike of several hours idled the subway system and many buses in Rome. Milan was hit by a similar transit walkout.

State railways said a 24-hour nationwide train strike, called by one small union, affected only 5 percent of the train rains.

Alitalia reduced flights , warning that a four-hour afternoon strike in the air travel sector could cause flight delays. The walkout mainly involved air traffic controllers and airport workers, not Alitalia personnel.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us