Anti-crisis anger turns into global movement
Hundreds camped out in London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam Sunday, after clashes in New York and Rome, during protests some see as the start of a new global movement against corporate greed and budget cuts.
Organisers said 250 people spent the night outside St Paul's Cathedral in London's financial district where a camp of 70 tents had sprung up.
Some 200 people also camped in front of the European Central Bank building in Frankfurt, while in Amsterdam 50 tents were put up outside the stock exchange.
There were rallies in 951 cities in 80 countries around the globe on Saturday, building on an campaign launched on May 15 with a rally in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square by a group calling itself "Indignados" ("Indignants").
The rallies passed off mostly peacefully but in Rome a few hundred among tens of thousands of protesters set cars alight, smashed up banks and hurled rocks at riot police, who responded by firing tear gas and water cannon jets.
Of 135 injured, 105 were police officers and two protesters injured by explodings smoke bombs had fingers amputated. Police arrested 12 people.
There were also clashes in New York where the "Occupy Wall Street" movement has gained pace. Police made 88 arrests there.
Early Sunday, Chicago police arrested 175 protesters as they cleared a protest camp in the city's Grant Park.
"The Indignados movement rises again with global force," Spain's El Pais daily said.
"This is the first time a grassroots initiative organises so many rallies in so many different and distant places in a coordinated way," it said.
In Italy, La Stampa said: "The world takes to the streets: united, peaceful and colourful."
And Repubblica columnist Eugenio Scalfari wrote: "The fact is there is now clearly an international movement. Its preface was the 'Arab Spring'.
"It expresses the anger of a generation with no future and no faith in traditional politics but above all financial institutions seen as responsible for the crisis and profiteers of the damage to the common good," he said.
Tens of thousands turned out at the biggest rallies in Lisbon, Madrid and Rome. There were thousands too in Washington and New York.
"I think it is very moving that the movement that was born here has extended throughout the world," 24-year-old Carmen Martin said as she marched in Madrid.
"It was about time people rise up," she added.
In London, scuffles broke out after a few thousand people gathered in the financial district near St Paul's Cathedral, raising banners saying: "Strike back!", "No cuts!" and "Goldman Sachs is the work of the devil!"
The founder of the Wikileaks whistleblower website Julian Assange told protesters from the steps of St Paul's he supported them "because the banking system in London is the recipient of corrupt money".
And in Washington, the son of slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr addressed a crowd on the National Mall.
"I believe that if my father was alive, he would be right here with all of us involved in this demonstration today," Martin Luther King III said.
Major protests also took place at European Union institutions in Brussels and Frankfurt, as well as in Athens, where painful budget cuts imposed by international lenders in return for a bailout have sparked widespread anger.
In Rome, which saw the worst violence of the day, the march quickly degenerated into street battles between groups of hooded protesters and riot police, sending peaceful demonstrators fleeing.
The city's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, said the rioting had caused damage of one million euros ($1.4 million) to public property. The Vatican condemned damage to a city centre church.
But in Canada more than 10,000 people blew bubbles, strummed guitars and chanted anti-corporate slogans during peaceful protests in cities across the country.
"I believe a revolution is happening," said 30-year-old Annabell Chapa, who had brought her one-year-old son Jaydn along in a stroller to a rally in Toronto.
Italian central bank governor Mario Draghi, a former executive at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs set to take over as president of the European Central Bank next month, expressed some sympathy with the protests.
"They're angry against the world of finance. I understand them," Draghi said at a meeting of G20 financial powers in Paris on Saturday, expressing regret however at the reports of violence.
In the Portuguese capital, where some 50,000 rallied, Mathieu Rego, 25, said: "We are victims of financial speculation and this austerity programme is going to ruin us. We have to change this rotten system."
There were smaller mostly peaceful protests also in Amsterdam, Geneva, Miami, Montenegro, Paris, Sarajevo, Serbia, Vienna and Zurich, with protesters chanting anti-capitalist slogans and wearing satirical masks.
In Mexico, Peru and Chile, thousands also marched to protest what they said was an unfair financial system and stagnant unemployment.
As the day began, hundreds rallied in Hong Kong and Tokyo where demonstrators voiced their fury at the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Hundreds also set up camp outside Australia's central bank in Sydney.
© 2011 AFP