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Pro-U.S, anti-war rallies in Rome

Pro-U.S. rally
Twin towers are remembered at the Berlusconi rally  

ROME, Italy -- Rival pro-U.S. and anti-war rallies in Rome passed off peacefully with police figures putting the turnout larger at a pro-coalition event led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives.

According to police quoted by the Associated Press, a crowd of 100,000 attended the Berlusconi rally on Saturday. They waved U.S. flags, as well as flags of Italy and the European Union, as an orchestra played the "The Star Spangled Banner."

Opponents of the U.S.-led strikes against Afghanistan shouted "niente guerra" (no war), as they waved communist flags and anti-NATO banners near Rome's central railway station.

Police quoted by AP put the turnout at 20,000. Organisers put the crowd at 70,000, however, and Reuters put the figure at 60,000.

Security forces numbering about 6,000 were out en masse to prevent violence.

Determined to avoid the events of the Genoa G8 summit earlier this year when police shot dead an anti-globalisation protester during two days of violence, authorities sealed subway stations were and cordoned off streets.

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A 3 km steel fence was erected through the centre of Rome to divide the groups.

And bracing for possible terror attacks, authorities banned flights over the capital -- even setting up anti-aircraft batteries. But there was little trouble.

No police intervened when some marchers broke away to spray-paint anti-war slogans on banks along the route and hurl balloons filled with paint at a school. Another group burned a European Union flag.

The anti-war march began about an hour before the scheduled start of the pro-America rally in vast Piazza del Popolo.

"We're here today to say we're all citizens of New York," Berlusconi told the crowd, saying, "we owe it to the American people" to have this rally.

Among those invited to address the crowd were eight New York City firefighters who had earlier in the morning presented Pope John Paul II with the white helmet of their chaplain, who was killed in the September 11 terror attacks.

"From all New York firefighters, from all New Yorkers, from all Americans, thank you, Rome, and thank you Italia," said Daniel A. Nigro, the department's new chief.

The USA Day rally came days after Parliament, which Berlusconi comfortably controls, voted overwhelmingly to send about 2,700 Italian troops and assorted military equipment to support the campaign against the Taliban.

Anti-war protest
Anti-war protesters mocked government leaders as "the Three Wise Men"  

Berlusconi, head of a conservative coalition, is at pains to show how unwavering an ally he is of Washington and the U.S.-led offensive.

Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti and New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani were due to speak to the crowds at the rally via a video link. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli was to sing live on stage and Berlusconi to deliver the closing speech.

The organisers of the anti-war march, No Global Forum, had said in advance their event would be entirely peaceful.

Their march was organised months ago, originally to protest against a summit of the Food and Agriculture Organisation planned in Rome for this week.

That summit was postponed until 2002 amid security fears in the wake of the attacks on the United States.


• CNN Italia

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