Student protests turn violent in Rome

ROME – Italian students angry at state university budget cuts clashed Tuesday with riot police who used tear gas and police vans to seal off much of Rome’s historic center to stop protesters reaching Parliament.

There were no reports of serious injuries or damage.

Lawmakers on Tuesday are voting on a contested reform bill many students and professors say will give the private sector too much involvement in the state university system. Protesters claim the funding cuts mean faculty positions are going unfilled.

The protests turned briefly violent as students — about 3,000 in all with a core group of about 200 — poured onto the main thoroughfare of the historic center, throwing eggs, tomatoes and smoke bombs at police.

At one point, protesters tried to overturn a police van. Riot police charged after them, using tear gas.

The heavy police presence, designed to prevent the protesters from reaching the square outside the Chamber of Deputies, blocked bus and tram routes for hours and jammed traffic on the main roads leading into the center.

After the clashes, many protesters appeared to have retreated. Organizers said some were heading back to their universities.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi brushed off the protests, saying “serious” students were home studying. He defended the reforms as necessary to modernize education in Italy, and predicted the bill would pass later Tuesday, the ANSA news agency reported.

Similar protests snarled other cities, including Milan, Turin, Naples, Venice, Palermo and Bari. In Genoa, students protested under the slogan “they block our future, we block the cities.”

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