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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 February 2007, 18:47 GMT
Italians march in US base protest

Demonstration
Protesters came from all over the country
Tens of thousands of people have marched in the north-eastern Italian city of Vicenza against a planned extension of the US army base there.

Organisers say the majority of local people are opposed to US plans. They say Prime Minister Romano Prodi has ignored strong local objections.

Mr Prodi is going ahead with a plan agreed by his pro-US predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi.

Despite fears of possible violence, the march passed off peacefully.

Schools normally opened on Saturday were closed, and the US embassy warned Americans to avoid the city, as Mr Prodi appealed for protestors to avoid violence.

Vicenza's mayor had feared the march would be infiltrated by left-wing radicals from other EU states intent on causing violence.

In Genoa six years ago clashes between police and anti-globalisation protesters during a G8 summit resulted in one death and many injuries, as well as serious damage.

Organisers said 100,000 people attended the Vicenza march, while police put the number at 40,000.

Ministers banned

Marchers carried banners reading "America, No Thanks" and "Bases Go Home", and waved rainbow-coloured peace flags.

"There is no reason to have this base here," said Antonio Faitta, 25, who travelled from Genoa for the protest.

Special trains and buses from various parts of Italy arrived in Vicenza for the march.

Anti-US banners in Vicenza
People want to impose with violence a base that nobody wants
Local man

Many of them had been chartered by leftist parties and the Greens, members of Mr Prodi's ruling coalition, although the prime minister had banned ministers from attending the march.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the centre-left government is embarrassingly split between those who want to respect the decision of the previous centre-right coalition to agree to Washington's request, and those who would like to see the Americans out.

Thousands set off from the town's railway station with banners such as "No To The Bases" and "America No Thanks".

"We love our town and we want to protect it," a local protester told the BBC.

"Other people want to impose with violence a base that nobody wants."

Transfer from Germany

The Americans established a military presence in Vicenza more than half a century ago.

President George W Bush wants to strengthen the base, the headquarters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, by transferring from Germany to Italy another 2,000 US soldiers.

This would bring the total number of US troops stationed in Vicenza to nearly 5,000.

The base provides over 1,000 jobs to locals in Vicenza and injects millions of dollars into the local economy.

A withdrawal could have serious local economic consequences.




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