Protests pose 'grave threats' to Bush visit, says Italian minister

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The Independent Online

Italy's Interior Minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, warned yesterday of "grave threats" looming over demonstrations planned for the visit of President George Bush to Rome next week.

He insisted that Italians have "the right to demonstrate their opinions peacefully and without weapons," while others have "the right to go about their daily lives". He added: "Let it be clear to all that we won't leave any space for violence."

Mr Bush will be in Italy on 4-5 June. However, on 2 June, Italy marks Republic Day. Both occasions are expected to draw thousands of demonstrators protesting against the war and occupation in Iraq, as well as the Italian government's seemingly staunch support for the American administration.

A protest leader, Luca Casarini, said in an interview with La Stampa: "If a criminal of the calibre of Bush is fêted with all honours, rage is the right reaction." Mr Casarini was evasive when asked about rumours that protesters would be trying to block President Bush's motorcade, saying "There's nothing prearranged."

However, Mr Pisanu has said: "Grave threats are looming which concern us but don't frighten us."

Mr Casarini was asked about the prospect of widespread vandalism, similar to the kind that left Genoa badly damaged after the 2001 G8 summit. He replied: "Compared to the Iraqi massacre, I couldn't care less about some broken windows."

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