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Demonstrators gather for G8 protest in Italy

world Updated: Jul 04, 2009 18:42 IST
Ian Simpson

Anti-G8 demonstrators gathered on Saturday in an Italian city which is home to a contested US military base in the first big protest ahead of next week's summit of the world's richest nations.

Organisers expect 10,000 people to attend the demonstration in the northeastern city of Vicenza, launched to protest against expansion plans that would make the US base one of the biggest in Europe, and more generally against the July 8-10 G8 summit which Italy chairs this year.

"What we have here is a democracy of the people. At the G8, you've got eight powers that want to govern by imposing their will. That's not democracy," Marco Palma, a spokesman for the protesters, told Reuters.

"(US President) Barack Obama has said he's the man of change. Here in Vicenza we haven't see any change," he said.

Leaders of the Group of Eight major industrialised nations and main developing countries will hold talks in the central city of L'Aquila focusing on the state of the world economy, financial regulation, climate change, trade and development.

Anti-capitalist protesters plan a series of demonstrations at different sites against the summit, starting with the one in Vicenza -- where locals oppose the doubling of the size of the US base, home to 3,000 soldiers of the 173 Airborne Brigade.

The Italian government has approved construction of a new 6,000 square metre (64,600 sq ft) base on the site of the old Molin airport on the city's outskirts.

Despite approval by Rome, residents of the northeastern city have rejected the base expansion in a referendum.

Opponents contend the base poses a threat to ground water, is dangerous for residents and for Vicenza's historic centre, a treasure of Renaissance architecture.

The protesters plan to march about 3.5 km (2 miles) to the construction site, which has been sealed off by local authorities, and plant flags with anti-base slogans. Around 1,000 police were deployed on Saturday along the route.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is keen to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred a 2001 G8 summit hosted by Italy in Genoa, when a protester was killed and scores of others were beaten up by police.

Summit organisers have said the choice of L'Aquila, which was badly damaged by an earthquake in April that killed nearly 300 people and left 60,000 homeless, should deter violent protests out of respect for the plight of local people.

Demonstrators plan to stage a candle-lit night march in the city on July 6 -- three months after the quake struck.

(Editing by Charles Dick)