Panic and violence in the streets as protesters turn against politicians

Summer of discontent looms with demonstrations against more austerity measures

Tuesday 15 May 2012 00:03
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Southern Europe is preparing for a summer of discontent as protesters of all ages, and from across the political spectrum, plan demonstrations against greater austerity measures and against those policymakers who say there is no alternative to cuts.

Up to 50,000 "Indignant Ones" gathered in Madrid's Puerta de Sol area on Saturday, many more than expected, to demonstrate against the Spanish government's austerity measures. But, as indignant as they might have been, there were fewer on the streets for what was billed as an even bigger rally on Sunday, despite a message of support from the US rocker Bruce Springsteen.

A public holiday in Madrid today is likely to draw another protest, and one group almost certain to be there is the yayoflautas, a collection of people in their sixties and seventies, and who were involved in anti-Franco protests. The group has staged sit-ins in banks, radio stations, hospitals and even the reception area of a ratings agency.

"How can we play petanque or games of cards with what's happening? We are scared of our children losing everything we fought for," one yayoflauta told the El Mundo newspaper.

The decision by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia not to publicly celebrate their golden wedding anniversary yesterday removed a possible target for protesters – some of whom are already angry with the King for his expensive elephant-hunting trip last month, for which he later apologised.

In Italy, the economic crisis is giving rise to political instability last seen 40 years ago. Captains of industry are being given armed escorts as the tensions and political paranoia of the blood-stained 1970s return to haunt the country. After the knee-capping last week of a nuclear industry executive in Genoa, and threats of further violence from the anarchist perpetrators, security for state officials, government buildings and key industrial figures has been stepped up.

Giuseppe Orsi, the head of the state arms manufacturer Finmeccanica, is among the industrialists now with armed protection, according to reports. The Informal Anarchists Federation has claimed responsibility for kneecapping Roberto Adinolfi and threatened further attacks. The interior ministry has identified 400 people and places it regards as possible or likely targets.

Ministers will meet on Thursday to discuss the security situation, but the interior ministry has already said it may enlist the army to protect potential terrorist targets. The tension in Italy has been heightened by a series of suicides linked to the economic climate, and tax officials have received parcel bombs. Last week, the fledgling Five Star Movement party, led by Italy's best-known comedian, Beppe Grillo, won up to 20 per cent of the vote in some cities' mayoral elections as angry voters turned their back on mainstream politics.

Meanwhile, a front-page report in the popular Greek newspaper Ta Nea yesterday criticised what many Greeks see as bias in the mainstream media. It showed a silhouetted figure with a pistol to its head, pulling the trigger, and the man's blood splashed dramatically across a white background in the shape of Greece. Above the image was the headline "The width of a blade from the edge" – a play on the word Syriza, which is also the name of the Coalition of the Radical Left that is riding high in opinion polls. The sub-headline warned that the country was "running full speed towards new elections".

The row has crystallised a feeling in the euro's most troubled member state that its own media has not given a fair account of the crisis. Several major left-leaning news outlets have closed, including the Eleftherotypia newspaper, prompting some journalists to set up amateur ventures, often in opposition to the austerity agenda backed by the main political parties.

Ta Nea, a left-leaning tabloid with links to the governing Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) party has joined centrist and rightwing outlets in warning voters that supporting Syriza would amount to supporting an exit from the eurozone, something the radical leftwing party denies.

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