ROME (AP) – Italian restaurant owners and others are angry at having their businesses closed for weeks due to a virus lockout clashed with police on Tuesday during a protest outside parliament in Rome, while in the south hundreds of protesters blocked a major highway.
An officer was injured in the altercation, 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!”
Eating and drinking in restaurants, bars and cafes is currently banned through at least April. Only takeout or delivery services are allowed.
Officers charged some protesters after trying to break a police cord. Members of a far-right political group joined the business owners in the protest, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Among the protesters was Hermes Ferrari, owner of a restaurant in Modena, a city in northern Italy. He boasted that he has defied the authorities for several months by opening his establishment to eateries in violation of government decree.
Even when the fines were stacked, “I could pay my workers,” Ferrari said by keeping the company open.
Ferrari shouted at fellow restaurant owners during the protest to follow his lead.
“You have to open because no one can ask you to close,” he shouted.
Italy’s current and former governments have allocated millions of euros in support of categories particularly hard hit by pandemic restrictions.
Business owners insist on reopening permanently. Restaurants and cafes in regions with lower incidence and less critically affected hospital ICUs – so-called yellow zones – have at times been allowed to sit and eat and drink before nightfall.
However, a current increase in infections, mainly driven by virus variants, has seen daily new cases in tens of thousands and hundreds of COVID-19 deaths a day now for several months. This prompted the Italian government to temporarily remove the yellow zone designation from before the Easter holidays through the rest of April.
Undersecretary Carlo Sibilia, who expressed solidarity with the wounded police officer, said “violence is not tolerated.”
Nevertheless, Sibilia from the populist 5-star movement called on the government, in addition to concentrating on vaccine rollout, to provide “immediate new compensatory measures for economic activities closed or punished by the recent restrictions.”
Sibilia pressed for state guarantees for loans, a moratorium on mortgage payments, suspension of deferral and compensation for lost income due to COVID-19 measures.
Hours earlier, near the southern city of Caserta, another protest blocked traffic on the A1 motorway. Among the hundreds of protesters were those working in outdoor markets and owners of gyms and restaurants, the Italian news agency LaPresse said. Fitness centers have been closed for several months.
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese dismissed as unacceptable protests that become violent or as annoying citizens.
AP journalist Gordon Walker in Rome contributed to this report.
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