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Crowds rally against Italy's PM

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Rome

Walter Veltroni addresses rally
Walter Veltroni criticised Mr Berlusconi's right-wing policies

A huge rally has been held in the Italian capital, Rome, to protest against the government of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Opponents accuse Mr Berlusconi of taking Italy too far to the right.

The leader of the centre-left opposition told the crowds that Mr Berlusconi was incapable of handling Italy's social and financial crises.

The demonstration was the biggest anti-government rally since Mr Berlusconi was returned to power in April.

Rome's ancient chariot track, Circus Maximus, was the setting for the protest.

Huge turn out

Estimates of the exact numbers taking part vary from hundreds of thousands to more than two million.

Either way, it was a substantial turn-out from Italy's left-of-centre opposition.

Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi still enjoys a clear lead in the opinion polls

Its leader, Walter Veltroni, told the crowd that Italy was becoming more fascist under Mr Berlusconi.

Mr Veltroni has been relatively invisible since April's elections which returned Mr Berlusconi to power.

The prime minister's policies against crime and illegal immigration especially have earned him high ratings in the polls.

But those measures and others in education which involve cutting funds to universities and holding separate classes for immigrant children who can't speak Italian, have started to galvanise the opposition again.

Its parliamentary muscle may be no match for Mr Berlusconi's, but at street level it is still able to command widespread support.


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