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Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 10:55 GMT
Italy's left confronts Berlusconi
Protester wears
Protesters accused Berlusconi of breaking promises
test hello test
By David Willey
BBC Rome correspondent

More than 100,000 left-wingers have marched through the streets of Rome in a major protest against the labour, welfare and justice policies of Silvio Berlusconi's government.

It was an effective demonstration of the increasingly vocal opposition by Italy's left to the way in which media magnate Mr Berlusconi, Italy's wealthiest businessman, appears to be forcing through legislation favouring above all himself and his business cronies.

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: "Italy must stay competitive"
A general strike has been called for the week after Easter by the main labour unions.

Widespread industrial unrest played a key role in bringing down Mr Berlusconi's first government after only seven months in 1994.

But the prime minister appears unfazed by threats of more strikes in the public services.

He told a meeting of Italian industrialists that his popularity rating was still 70%.

He hinted that he was prepared to reconsider his plans to rewrite a key clause in a labour law that gives workers who feel they have been fired without just cause the automatic right to get their jobs back.

Napoleon/Berlusconi effigy
Many believe Berlusconi wants a dictatorship
The prime minister insists that Italy must remain competitive within the European Union.

The only way for this to happen, he argues, is to abandon previous labour legislation which stifles industrial flexibility.

The weakness of the left-wing opposition lies in its fragmentation and internal rivalries.

Even the leadership of the main left-wing party is in dispute.

When one of Mr Berlusconi's leading independent political opponents, the former public prosecutor Antonio di Pietro, tried to address the demonstrators at the end of the Rome rally, he was refused permission to speak from the platform.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Europe
Italy's new superboss
15 Feb 02 | Europe
Storm gathers around Italian TV
14 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Italy
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