Italians march in US base protest


Italians march in US base protest

Protesters came from all over the country

Tens of thousands of people have marched in the north-eastern
Italian city of Vicenza against a planned extension of the US army base

Organisers say the majority of local people are opposed
to US plans. They say Prime Minister Romano Prodi has ignored strong
local objections.

Mr Prodi is going ahead with a plan agreed by his pro-US predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi.

Despite fears of possible violence, the march passed off peacefully.

Schools normally opened on Saturday were closed, and the
US embassy warned Americans to avoid the city, as Mr Prodi appealed for
protestors to avoid violence.

Vicenza's mayor had feared the march would be
infiltrated by left-wing radicals from other EU states intent on
causing violence - as happened in Genoa six years ago, when rioting
during a G8 summit caused heavy damage, one death and many injuries.

Organisers said 100,000 people attended, while police put the number at 40,000.

Ministers banned

Marchers carried banners reading "America, No Thanks" and "Bases Go Home", and waved rainbow-coloured peace flags.

"There is no reason to have this base here," said Antonio Faitta, 25, who travelled from Genoa for the protest.

Special trains and buses from various parts of Italy arrived in Vicenza for the march.

Anti-US banners in Vicenza

People want to impose with violence a base that nobody wants
Local man

Many of them had been chartered by leftist parties and
the Greens, members of Mr Prodi's ruling coalition, although the prime
minister had banned ministers from attending the march.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the centre-left
government is embarrassingly split between those who want to respect
the decision of the previous centre-right coalition to agree to
Washington's request, and those who would like to see the Americans

Thousands set off from the town's railway station with banners such as "No To The Bases" and "America No Thanks".

"We love our town and we want to protect it," a local protester told the BBC.

"Other people want to impose with violence a base that nobody wants."

Transfer from Germany

The Americans established a military presence in Vicenza more than half a century ago.

President George W Bush wants to strengthen the base,
the headquarters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, by transferring from
Germany to Italy another 2,000 US soldiers.

This would bring the total number of US troops stationed in Vicenza to nearly 5,000.

The base provides over 1,000 jobs to locals in Vicenza and injects millions of dollars into the local economy.

A withdrawal could have serious local economic consequences.

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