26 Oct 2008

Organisers say 2.5 million march against right-wing policies

6:19 am on 26 October 2008

A huge crowd has marched through Rome to protest against Silvio Berlusconi's government, which the Italian left accuses of flirting with fascism.

Opposition leader Walter Veltroni, who lost to Mr Berlusconi at an April election, addressed a crowd at Rome's ancient chariot track Circus Maximus which organisers say numbered 2.5 million.

"Let's always remember: another Italy is possible and we will build it together," Veltroni told supporters.

In an alliance with two right wing parties, the 72-year media tycoon Berlusconi has a strong majority in parliament.

Among his earliest policies have been the dismantling of gypsy shanty towns, putting soldiers on city streets and guaranteeing immunity from prosecution for himself and other top officials.

While enjoying an approval rating of 60% in some polls, he is loathed by the left which he often taunts for being "communists".

Mr Veltroni said Italy was becoming more racist and criticised some government members for historic links to fascism.

He mocked Mr Berlusconi's standing as a statesman, criticising him for suggesting in public that leaders were considering closing financial markets until the global crisis be resolved.

"How could he announce, in the darkest days, a decision that had not been taken - the closure of financial markets - a claim which was even denied by the White House?" Veltroni said.

"If it had been (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel or (British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown saying such a thing, there would have been a disaster, but as the world knows who he is, nothing happened."

Mr Veltroni is the leader of the Democratic Party which was formed last year by merging the former communist Democrats of the Left, with the centrist liberal Daisy Party, excluding hardline communists which failed to win any parliamentary seats.