ROME – Italian restaurant owners and others angry at having their businesses shut for weeks due to a virus lockdown clashed with police Tuesday during a protest outside Parliament in Rome, while in the south, hundreds of demonstrators blocked a major highway.
One officer was injured in the scuffling, the Italian news agency LaPresse said. RAI state TV said seven protesters were detained by police.
Many in the crowd of a few hundred protesters outside the Chamber of Deputies lowered their masks to shout “Work!” and “Freedom!” Some hurled smoke flares or other objects.
Dining and drinking at restaurants, bars and cafes is currently banned through at least April. Only takeout or delivery services are permitted.
Officers charged some protesters after they tried to breach a police cordon. Members of a far-right political group joined the business owners at the protest, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Among the demonstrators was Hermes Ferrari, owner of a restaurant in Modena, a city in northern Italy. He boasted that he has defied authorities for months in opening his establishment to diners in breach of government decrees.
Even as the fines piled up "I was able to pay my workers,” Ferrari said, by keeping the business open.
Ferrari shouted to fellow restaurant owners at the protest to follow his lead.
“You have to open because nobody can tell you to close,” he yelled.
Italy's current and previous governments have allocated millions of euros in aid to categories particularly hard-hit by pandemic restrictions.
The business owners insist they need to re-open permanently. Restaurants and cafes in regions with lower incidence of cases and less critically impacted hospital ICUs — so-called yellow zones — have been allowed at times to have sit-down dining and drinking before evening.
But a current surge in infections, driven mainly by virus variants, has seen daily new caseloads in the tens of thousands and hundreds of COVID-19 deaths a day now for months. That prompted the Italian government to temporarily eliminate the yellow zone designation from before the Easter holidays through the rest of April.
Expressing solidarity with the injured police officer, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Carlo Sibilia said “violence won't be tolerated.”
Still, Sibilia, from the populist 5-Star Movement, called on the government, besides concentrating on the vaccine rollout, to provide “immediately, new compensatory funds for economic activities closed or penalized by the recent restrictions.”
Sibilia pressed for government guarantees of loans, a moratorium on mortgage payments, a stop to evictions, and compensation for income lost due to COVID-19 measures.
Hours earlier, near the southern city of Caserta, another protest blocked traffic on the A1 Highway. Among the hundreds of demonstrators were those who work in outdoor markets and owners of gyms and restaurants, the Italian news agency LaPresse said. Gyms have been closed for months.
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese decried as unacceptable protests that turn violent or that inconvenience citizens.
AP journalist Gordon Walker in Rome contributed to this report.