Thousands of students and teachers have marched through central Rome to protest against education spending cuts.
Saturday’s demonstration comes as Mario Monti, the prime minister, pushed through “austerity measures”; raising taxes and reining in public spending, at a time when schools and universities say they desperately need more support.
“We need to fight for our rights. This government doesn’t represent us and these austerity measures and all the cuts they’ve introduced are totally anti-democratic,” Tommaso Bernardi, student protester, said.
Italy’s education system is “crumbling into pieces”, Michele Orezzi, a university union co-ordinator, said.
“We need to change this country, starting from investments in schools, universities and culture.”
|Al Jazeera’s Caludio Lavanga reports from Rome|
Youth unemployment stands at about 35 per cent, more than three times the national average, and with Monti’s austerity policies biting into education spending, school pupils and university students have taken an active role in anti-government protests.
Students have occupied schools around Rome in recent weeks to express their anger and frustration at repeated funding cuts, chaining gates shut and camping inside classrooms.
Monti has defended his austerity plan, saying his technocrat government – appointed a year ago when Italy faced a Greek-style debt crisis – would be remembered for having helped Italy pull itself out of a deep economic malaise without resorting to borrowing from foreign lenders.
“Rome is a city in lockdown,” Al Jazeera’s Claudio Lavanga reported from the Italian capital.
“As for now, it has been a peaceful demonstration, but most of the roads into the city centre are still closed.”
Several other protests are due to take place in Rome later on Saturday, including a rally organised by a far-right group and another by an opposing anti-fascist demonstration.
Police have organised different routes and times for the rallies to reduce the risk of violence, after scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators during recent protests that saw officers criticised for heavy-handed tactics.
“I hope we’ll see a lot of people here today because we need to make ourselves heard,” Davide Marini, a student, said.
“The demonstration on November 14 was a great one but I hope today there will be no clashes because the thing is when there are clashes that’s all everyone then talks about – and no attention is given to the real reason we are demonstrating.”
Earlier, a summit to try and agree the European Union’s new trillion-dollar budget ended in failure on Friday.
After two days of bitter bargaining in Brussels, EU leaders remain divided over whether to continue with austerity programmes or to spend more to boost growth.