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Eurozone crisis

Thousands protest Italian austerity measures

Tens of thousands of Italians marched through Rome in what was dubbed "No Monti Day," in reference to some unpopular policies put forward by Prime Minister Mario Monti.

According to organizers, some 150,000 people demonstrated in No Monti Day on Saturday, a response to austerity and taxation policies initiated by the prime minister.

Unionists, leftwing parties, teachers, workers, non-governmental organizations, artists, members of Italy's communist party and individual politicians, including Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris attended.

'Away with Monti'

Demonstrators wore giant masks of Prime Minister Mario Monti and the devil, while others carried life-size puppets of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama as they passed through the city center.

Fronted by a banner reading "Together with Europeans who rebel – Let's kick out the Monti Government," in unity with protest marches in other European countries.

Other demonstrators carried banners with the slogans "Away with Monti," and "Cuts, only cuts," to condemn structural reforms imposed by the government in a bid to ward off the eurozone debt crisis.

"We are here against Monti and his politics, the same politics as all over Europe, that brought Greece to its knees and that is destroying half of Europe, public schools, health care," said demonstrator Giorgio Cremaschi.

Unlike protests against austerity measures in Greece, Spain and Portugal which turned violent, demonstrations in Italy remained markedly peaceful.

A minor scuffle however did break out in Rome between a small group of youths and police forces after the group sprayed graffiti, threw stones and bottles, causing a major road to be briefly blocked.

Medics take a stand

Meanwhile, nearly 20,000 medical staff, wearing their white gowns or uniforms demonstrated in another part of Rome against the cuts to Italy's  national health service.

"The entire system risks collapse if the cuts continue," one demonstrator told the Reuters news agency.

Debt spiraling out of control

Appointed to the top-job in November, 2012 just as Italy risked being caught up in the throes of the euro zone debt crisis, Monti , a technocrat and former European Union commissioner enforced tax hikes, government spending cuts and an overhaul of the country's pension scheme.

Critics accused Monti of neglecting to boost Italy's growth. "It's been years that there have been no investments, instead it's all outsourced and privatized, we  are here to say enough and we hope this voice will grow," demonstrator Caterina Fida told the Associated Press.

Italy's unemployment rate is currently at 10.7 percent, the highest rate since monthly records began in 2004.

The International Monetary Fund reported the country's national public debt is running at 126-percent of output.

jlw/mz(Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)