Thousands Protest 'Destruction of Public School' in Italy
Thousands of high school students, teachers and unionists demonstrated in Rome and several other Italian cities on Saturday against deep cuts in spending on public education.
"Down with the Crisis and Austerity, Let Us Reclaim Our Lives," read a banner at the head of a march in Rome.
After years of budget cuts, high school students now fear the passage of a controversial education reform bill currently before parliament that would allow schools to seek private rather than state funding and reduce teachers' power.
Students last week staged dozens of "occupations" of schools across Italy to protest eduction cuts.
Youth unemployment levels three times the national average have propelled students to the front of street demonstrations which have spiraled out of control, with violent clashes between teenagers and riot police firing tear gas at some protests.
On Saturday in southern Naples, hundreds of high school students also demonstrated, some setting off firecrackers.
In Palermo, protesters walked behind a cardboard coffin to symbolize the death of the public school.
Another march was organize in Rome by the Cobas union, whose spokesman Piero Bernocchi estimated the number of protesters Saturday at more than 5,000.
"No to the destruction of the public school" and "Banks run politics, the private sector wants to run schools," shouted the demonstrators, including many teachers.
Italy slid into a recession at the end of 2011 and the government has said it does not expect a return to growth before next year at the earliest.
On Thursday, Italy's lower house of parliament approved budget measures, including cuts to the education sector, aimed at pulling the country out of deep debt.
The measures will now go before the Senate.