ROME (AP) – Italian restaurant owners and others angered at having shuttered their businesses for weeks due to a virus lockdown clashed with police during a protest outside Parliament in Rome on Tuesday, while in the south, hundreds of protesters blocked a major highway.
An officer was injured in the fight, Italian news agency LaPresse said. State television RAI said police detained seven protesters.
Many in the crowd of a few hundred protesters outside the Chamber of Deputies lowered their masks to shout “Work!” and “Freedom!” Some threw smoke flares or other objects.
Eating and drinking in restaurants, bars and cafes is currently prohibited until at least April. Only take-out or delivery services are allowed.
The officers charged some protesters after they tried to break a police cordon. Members of a far-right political group joined businessmen in the protest, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Among the protesters was Hermes Ferrari, a restaurant owner in Modena, a city in northern Italy. He boasted of defying authorities for months by opening his establishment to diners in violation of government decrees.
Even as the fines mounted, “I was able to pay my workers,” Ferrari said, keeping the business open.
Ferrari yelled at his fellow diners in protest to follow suit.
“You have to open because no one can tell you to close,” he yelled.
Italy’s current and former governments have allocated millions of euros in aid to categories particularly affected by pandemic restrictions.
Business owners insist they need to reopen permanently. Restaurants and cafes in the regions with the lowest incidence of cases and the least affected hospital ICUs, the so-called yellow zones, have sometimes been allowed to dine and drink before night.
But a current surge in infections, driven primarily by variants of the virus, has led to tens of thousands of new cases daily and hundreds of COVID-19 deaths a day for months. That prompted the Italian government to temporarily remove the yellow zone designation from before the Easter holidays until the rest of April.
Expressing solidarity with the wounded police officer, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Carlo Sibilia said “violence will not be tolerated.”
Still, Sibilia, of the populist 5 Star Movement, asked the government to, in addition to focusing on the launch of the vaccine, provide “immediately, new compensatory funds for economic activities closed or penalized by recent restrictions.
Sibilia lobbied for the government to guarantee loans, a moratorium on mortgage payments, an end to evictions and compensation for lost income due to COVID-19 measures.
Hours earlier, near the southern city of Caserta, another protest blocked traffic on the A1 motorway. Among the hundreds of protesters were those who work in open-air markets and owners of gyms and restaurants, the Italian news agency LaPresse said. The gyms have been closed for months.
The Interior Minister, Luciana Lamorgese, denounced as unacceptable protests that turn violent or make citizens uncomfortable.
AP journalist Gordon Walker in Rome contributed to this report.
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