Over 100 protests held in Italy 1 week before elections

GERMAN PRESS AGENCY - DPA
MILAN
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Demonstrators scuffle with police during an anti-fascism demonstration in Milan, Italy, Feb. 24, 2018 (Reuters Photo)
Demonstrators scuffle with police during an anti-fascism demonstration in Milan, Italy, Feb. 24, 2018 (Reuters Photo)

Tens of thousands of people rallied in various cities across Italy on Saturday, one week before voters are set to head to the polls to vote for a new parliament.

Altogether 5,000 security forces were deployed to 119 demonstrations across the country, the Interior Ministry said.

Fears that clashes would break out between left- and right-wing groups, especially at the biggest rallies in Rome and Milan, went largely unrealized.

Security checks were in place at Milan's central cathedral square, where the right-wing populist League party expected 50,000 people at the afternoon rally headed by party leader Matteo Salvini.

Salvini, who is looking to secure votes ahead of the March 4 elections, told the crowd that the only thing he would give illegal migrants was a return ticket to go back to where they came from.

The neo-fascist party CasaPound also held a rally in the northern Italian city. Leftist counter-protesters at that event clashed with security officials, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

The Interior Ministry spoke of "individual and limited tension."

In Rome, left-wing groups and the Social Democratic Party took to the streets against racism, with some 25,000 estimated to attend.

Police said more people attended the demonstration than expected.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and former prime minister Matteo Renzi also took part in the demonstrations.

In recent weeks, demonstrations have led to repeated clashes between anti-fascists and security forces, with several arrests and injuries reported.

The competing parties can still hold election campaign events up until Friday. On March 4, around 51 million Italians can head to the polls to vote for a new parliament.

Polls have placed the center-right alliance consisting of Salvini's League, the Forza Italia led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and other smaller right-wing parties in the lead.

Meanwhile, the governing Democratic Party is facing a bitter defeat.

Many Italians are expected to cast protest votes for the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is on pace to be the largest single party in parliament.

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