ROME (Reuters) – Demonstrators rallied Saturday across the world to accuse bankers and politicians of wrecking economies, but only in Rome did the global “day of rage” erupt into violence.
Galvanized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, the protests began in New Zealand, rippled east to Europe and were expected to return to their starting point in New York. Demonstrations touched most European capitals and other cities.
They coincided with the Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where finance ministers and central bankers from the major economies were holding crisis talks.
While most rallies were small and barely held up traffic, the Rome event drew tens of thousands of people and snaked through the city center for kilometers (miles).
Some protesters in masks and helmets set fire to cars, smashed the windows of stores and banks and trashed offices of the defense ministry. Police fired water cannon at demonstrators who were hurling rocks, bottles and fireworks.
Smoke bombs set off by the protesters cast a pall over a sea of red flags and banners bearing slogans attacking economic policies the protesters say are hurting the poor most. The violence sent many demonstrators running into hotels for safety.
In contrast, small and peaceful rallies got the ball rolling across the Asia-Pacific region Saturday. In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, 3,000 people chanted and banged drums, denouncing corporate greed.
About 200 gathered in the capital Wellington and 50 in a park in the earthquake-hit southern city of Christchurch.
In Sydney, about 2,000 people, including representatives of Aboriginal groups, communists and trade unionists, protested outside the central Reserve Bank of Australia.
Hundreds marched in Tokyo, including anti-nuclear protesters. In Manila a few dozen marched on the U.S. embassy waving banners reading: “Down with U.S. imperialism” and “Philippines not for sale.”
More than 100 people gathered at the Taipei stock exchange, chanting “we are Taiwan’s 99 percent,” and saying economic growth had only benefited companies while middle-class salaries barely covered soaring housing, education and health care costs.
They found support from a top businessman, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (TSMC) Chairman Morris Chang.
“I’ve been against the gap between rich and poor,” Chang said in the northern city of Hsinchu. “The wealth of the top one percent has increased very fast in the past 20 or 30 years. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is a reaction to that.”
In Paris protests coincided with the G20 finance chiefs’ meeting there. In the working class neighborhood of Belleville, drummers, trumpeters and a tuba revved up a crowd of a few hundred that began to march to the city hall.
“This is potentially the start of a strong movement,” said Olivier Milleron, a doctor whose group of trumpeters played the classic American folk song “This land is your land.”
Waitress Tiodhilde Fernagu, 26, took a day off work to attend. “For the first time in France there is a uniquely citizens’ movement” outside party politics, she said.
“THE INDIGNANT ONES”
The Rome protesters, who called themselves “the indignant ones,” included unemployed, students and pensioners.
“I am here to show support for those don’t have enough money to make it to the next paycheque while the ECB (European Central Bank) keeps feeding the banks and killing workers and families,” said Danila Cucunia, a 43-year-old teacher from northern Italy.
“At the global level, we can’t carry on any more with public debt that wasn’t created by us but by thieving governments, corrupt banks and speculators who don’t give a damn about us,” said Nicla Crippa, 49.
“They caused this international crisis and are still profiting from it. They should pay for it.”
In imitation of the occupation of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in Manhattan, protesters have been camped out across the street from the headquarters of the Bank of Italy for days.
The worldwide protests were a response in part to calls by the New York demonstrators for more people to join them. Their example has prompted calls for similar occupations in dozens of U.S. cities from Saturday. [nN1E79D02O]
In Madrid, seven marches were planned to merge in Cibeles square at 1600 GMT and then head to the central Puerta de Sol.
In Germany, where sympathy for southern Europe’s debt troubles is not widespread, thousands gathered in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and outside the ECB in Frankfurt, called by the Real Democracy Now movement.
Demonstrators gathered peacefully in Paradeplatz, the main square in the Swiss financial center of Zurich.
In London, several hundred people assembled outside London’s St Paul’s Cathedral for a protest dubbed “Occupy the London Stock Exchange.” Several hundred people protested in Vienna, Sweden and Helsinki.
Greek protesters called an anti-austerity rally for Saturday in Athens’ Syntagma Square.
“What is happening (debt-driven financial meltdown) in Greece now is the nightmare awaiting other countries in the future. Solidarity is the people’s weapon,” the Real Democracy group said.
(Additional reporting by Catherine Hornby in Rome, Naomi O’Leary and Michael Holden, in London, Natalia Drozdiak in Berlin and Alexandria Sage in Paris; Writing by Andrew Roche; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Mochila insert follows.