ROME — Anti-greed protesters rallied globally on Saturday, denouncing bankers and politicians over the international economic crisis, with violence rocking Rome where cars were torched and bank windows smashed.
Galvanised by the Occupy Wall Street movement, protests began in New Zealand, touched parts of Asia, spread to Europe, and resumed at their starting point in New York with 5 000 marchers decrying corporate greed and economic inequality.
After weeks of intense media coverage, US protests have still been smaller than G20 meetings or political conventions have yielded in recent years. Such events often draw tens of thousands of demonstrators.
The demonstrations by the disaffected coincided with the Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where finance ministers and central bankers from major economies were holding talks on the debt and deficit crises afflicting many Western countries.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has gathered steam for a month, culminating with the global day of action. It remains unclear what momentum the movement, which has been driven by social media, has beyond Saturday.
While most rallies were relatively small and barely held up traffic, the Rome event drew tens of thousands of people and snaked through the city centre for miles.
Hundreds of hooded, masked demonstrators rampaged in some of the worst violence seen in the Italian capital in years, setting cars ablaze, breaking bank and shop windows and destroying traffic lights and signposts.
Police fired volleys of tear gas and used water cannon to try to disperse militant protesters who were hurling rocks, bottles and fireworks, but clashes went on into the evening.
Smoke bombs set off by protesters cast a pall over a sea of red flags and banners bearing slogans denouncing economic policies the protesters say are hurting the poor.
The violence sent many peaceful demonstrators and local residents near the Colosseum and St John’s Basilica running into hotels and churches for safety.
American protesters are angry that US banks are enjoying booming profits after getting massive bailouts in 2008 while average people are struggling in a tough economy with more than 9% unemployment and little help from Washington.
In New York, where the movement began when protesters set up a makeshift camp in Lower Manhattan on September 17, organisers said the protest grew to at least 5 000 people as they marched to Times Square in midtown Manhattan.
Some were disappointed the crowd was not larger.
“People don’t want to get involved. They’d rather watch on TV,” said Troy Simmons (47) who joined demonstrators as he left work. “The protesters could have done better today . . . People from the whole region should be here and it didn’t happen.”