Restaurant owners clash with police in protest against Rome lockdown

ROME – Italian restaurateurs and others angry at their businesses shutting down for weeks over a virus lockdown 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 scuffle, Italian news agency LaPresse reported. State television RAI said seven protesters were arrested by police.

Many in the crowd of a few hundred demonstrators in front of the Chamber of Deputies lowered their masks to shout “Work! and “Freedom! Some launched smoke rockets or other objects.

Eating and drinking in restaurants, bars and cafes is currently prohibited until at least April. Only take-out or delivery services are authorized.

Officers charged protesters after trying to break a police cordon. Members of a far-right political group joined business owners at the protest, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

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Among the protesters was Hermes Ferrari, owner of a restaurant in Modena, a city in northern Italy. He bragged about having defied the authorities for months by opening his establishment to diners in violation of government decrees.

Even as the fines piled up, “I was able to pay my employees,” Ferrari said, keeping the company open.

Ferrari shouted at other restaurateurs at the protest to follow his lead.

“You have to open because nobody can tell you to close,” he shouted.

The current and previous Italian governments have allocated millions of euros in aid to categories particularly affected by the restrictions linked to the pandemic.

Business owners insist they must reopen for good. Restaurants and cafes in areas with lower incidence of cases and less severely affected hospital intensive care units – the so-called yellow zones – have sometimes been allowed to sit down and drink before evening.

But a current surge in infections, mostly due to viral variants, has seen new cases daily in the tens of thousands and hundreds of COVID-19 deaths per day for months now. This prompted the Italian government to temporarily remove the yellow zone designation from before the Easter holidays until the rest of April.

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Expressing solidarity with the injured policeman, Interior Ministry Under-Secretary Carlo Sibilia said “violence will not be tolerated”.

Yet Sibilia, of the 5-star populist movement, called on the government, in addition to focusing on the deployment of the vaccine, to provide “immediately new compensation funds for economic activities closed or penalized by the recent restrictions”.

Sibilia lobbied for the government to guarantee loans, a moratorium on mortgage payments, stop evictions and compensation for income lost due to COVID-19 measures.

A few hours earlier, near the southern town of Caserta, another demonstration blocked traffic on the A1 motorway. Among the hundreds of protesters were those working in open-air markets and owners of gyms and restaurants, Italian news agency LaPresse reported. Gyms have been closed for months.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese has denounced unacceptable demonstrations that are turning violent or embarrassing citizens.

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AP reporter Gordon Walker in Rome contributed to this report.

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Track all of AP’s pandemic coverage on https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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