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Rome ready for conflicting rallies

Rome police
Police are on "high alert"  

ROME, Italy -- Tight security is being imposed around Rome, including its airspace, ahead of conflicting war against terrorism rallies on Saturday.

Anti-aircraft batteries will protect the Italian capital and flights in Roman airspace will be severely curtailed while 5,000 police on the ground prepare to keep demonstrators apart.

At least 150,000 people are expected to take part in two rallies scheduled less than one kilometre apart.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi organised USA Day in Rome's central Piazza del Popolo -- People's Square -- in an effort to unite the nation behind the U.S.-led coalition.

On Friday a nationwide poll by the Ispo research group showed 51 percent of those questioned approved of participation, down from 70 percent a month ago

The USA Day rally comes three days after parliament voted overwhelmingly to send 2,700 Italian troops and assorted military equipment to support the campaign against the Taliban.

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Berlusconi's conservative Forza Italia party intends to use 500 buses to transport supporters into Rome from around the country and has promised about 30,000 members will attend the rally.

A further 70,00 non-party members, who support the military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the hijack strikes on the U.S., are expected to attend the rally.

The anti-globalisation activists hope to draw at least 50,000 people to their march.

They will demonstrate against the airstrikes, which began more than a month ago, and call for "peace and solidarity with all oppressed peoples."

Global Forum, the organisers of the march who also arranged protests at the G8 summit in Genoa last July that turned violent, say they have no intention of causing trouble.

But La Repubblica newspaper on Friday quoted members of the extremist Black Bloc group, which caused havoc in Genoa, as saying they intended to infiltrate Berlusconi's pro-USA rally.

A police source told Reuters news agency: "There is certainly the chance of some disorder. We are also on high-alert for any type of attack, particularly since we are now part of the war effort."

As part of the air defences, a spy plane will be patrolling Italian airspace looking for rogue aircraft attempting to break the airspace ban.


• Italy pledges troops to U.S.
November 7, 2001

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