Thousands of anti-war protesters flocked to Rome last weekend to protest against US president George W. Bush, who was in the capital on an official visit following the G8 summit in Germany.
Bush met with centre-left premier Romano Prodi and president of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano on Saturday amid demonstrations that paralyzed the Italian capital. Organizers of the protests reported that 150,000 people took part in the No Bush–No War march, while police officials approximated only 12,000. About 200 pacifist organizations were responsible for the march that began in Piazza Repubblica and snaked its way through the city to Piazza Navona. However, at that spot the peaceful demonstration turned violent. When a group of activists in black, wearing hoods and helmets, started throwing stones, bottles, smoke bombs and sticks at police, other demonstrators clashed with the militants in an effort to stop the violence. Anti-riot police broke up the fray by charging the mob with their batons.
In the days prior to Bush’s official visit, security officials expressed concern that the violent No-Global militants might travel to Rome after the G8 summit in Germany. These so-called ‘black block’ were responsible for the riots of 2001 in Genoa that led to the death of a young demonstrator. The US Embassy cautioned Americans in Italy that the march could turn violent and they might find themselves targeted.
Meanwhile, in a separate protest against Bush’s foreign policies, centre-left politicians gathered in Piazza del Popolo.
While in Rome, Bush went to the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict XVI for the first time; they discussed ‘contemporary moral and religious issues’.
The press highlighted that the president addressed the pontiff as ‘Sir’ rather than with the customary ‘His Holiness’. Bush ended his visit with an unofficial meeting with his good friend, former premier Silvio Berlusconi.