ROME – An intense day of anti-fascist and far-right demonstrations were held in Italy on Saturday, just over a week before the March 4 general elections.
The main demonstrations took place in Rome, Milan and Palermo and coincided with the height of the campaign season and debates over the potential rise of xenophobic movements and fears of possible clashes pitting members of different extremist groups against one another.
In Rome, the National Association of Italian Partisans and 20 other organizations took to the streets on a rainy Saturday under the slogan “Fascism Never Again, Racism Never Again.”
Among the speakers at the rally were members of the current government, including Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, and the leader of his Democratic Party (PD), Matteo Renzi, who stressed the importance of the rally’s message.
Also attending that rally were members of the Free and Equal coalition of left-wing parties, including its leader, Pietro Grasso, That coalition includes small political groupings that are no longer allied with the PD.
Saturday’s biggest show of political strength in Milan was a rally organized by Matteo Salvini – leader of the anti-immigration Northern League (LN) – that drew thousands to the iconic Piazza del Duomo.
Salvini’s party has joined in a center-right coalition that includes former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and which is projected to obtain a plurality – but not a majority of votes – on March 4.
The LN leader predicted that his party would be the biggest vote-getter among right-wing parties and hypothesized that he would end up as prime minister.
“I promise and I commit myself to be faithful to my people, to 60 million Italians, to serving you all with honesty and courage,” said Salvini, who has seen his popularity rise amid concerns about large-scale immigration from poor countries in Africa and the Middle East and has said he would deport 500,000 migrants within five years if he becomes prime minister.
“I promise to truly apply the Constitution, ignored by many.”
Berlusconi is barred from public office due to a 2013 tax-fraud conviction.
Not far away, the neo-fascist group CasaPound Italy held a political rally in Milan, while members of a far-left group gathered on an adjacent street to protest the presence of the neo-fascists.
Although tensions ran high, police were able to avoid a confrontation between the two groups.