(1) Italian Students Protest Against Education Changes
By Catherine Hornby
(Reuters) – Italian students opposed to spending cuts marched in Rome on Tuesday and were blocked by police near parliament, where legislators voted on education reform that has sparked some of the biggest protests in decades.
The students, who last week occupied key tourist sites around the country including the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Colosseum, have vowed to block proposed changes by Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini.
Thousands of students streamed through central Rome towards parliament, chanting and waving banners with slogans such as 'education is on its knees' and threw eggs, vegetables, bottles and fireworks towards parliament.
Students briefly scuffled with police in riot gear as they tried to approach the building. Similar protests were taking place in other Italian cities
"We want to see a grass roots reform, not a reform that stems from the corridors of power," said 24-year-old Tommaso Ricci, a mathematics student at the University of Florence.
The protests by the Italian students were the latest in a wave of demonstrations against austerity measures throughout Europe.
Gelmini says the reforms, which are aimed at saving several billion euros by the end of 2012, will create a more merit-based system.
But opponents say universities already have a funding shortfall of 1.35 billion euros next year and the planned cuts will further weaken Italy's higher education system.
The unrest is a further blow for the troubled government, already undermined by a weak economy and a succession of scandals, and facing two confidence votes in parliament on Dec. 14 that could trigger early elections.
"This reform has been drawn up without any dialogue with students and teachers," said Barbara Marchetti, 27, who is studying for a PhD in physics at Rome University.
Gelmini has warned legislators, who have made some minor amendments to the package to satisfy students and teachers, that she will withdraw the reform if too many changes are made.
(Additional reporting by Gabriele Pileri)
(2) FACTBOX – Europeans stage anti-austerity protests
Tue, Nov 30 2010
REUTERS – Here are details of some of the major recent and forthcoming protests in European countries as Italian students opposed to spending cuts marched in Rome on Tuesday.
Oct. 16 – Thousands of Italians marched in Rome in a rally organised by the FIOM metalworkers union and backed by the CGIL, Italy's biggest union with 6 million members, to protest the bleak outlook for jobs and demand more rights for workers.
Nov. 30 – Thousands of students streamed through Rome towards parliament, chanting and waving banners with slogans such as 'education is on its knees'. Students, who on Nov. 25 occupied key tourist sites including the leaning tower of Pisa and the Colosseum, vowed to block proposed changes by Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini.
Oct 3 – A 24-hour strike by workers on London's underground rail system disrupted much of the network. The strike forced millions of commuters to struggle to work in their third walkout since September in a dispute over 800 planned job cuts. Another 24-hour strike took place on Nov. 28.
Oct. 19 – Britain's trade unions took protests over spending cuts to parliament, promising to fight to protect public services.
Nov. 10 – About 55,000 students took part in a demonstration in London against the government plans to triple university tuition fees up to 9,000 pounds ($14,000). A small group took part in protests at Millbank Tower, home to the Conservative Party headquarters, which saw windows smashed and missiles hurled at police. Around 66 people were arrested.
Nov. 24 – Thousands of students staged walkouts and marches across Britain against planned rises in tuition fees.
Nov. 30 – Thousands of students engaged in a game of cat and mouse with police through central London during a chaotic tuition fees protest.
Nov. 27 – Thousands of Irish took to the streets of Dublin to protest against the looming bailout. The EU approved an 85 billion euro ($115 billion) rescue for Ireland, a day later.
Nov. 24 – Portugal's biggest unions, the CGTP and the UGT, disrupted transport and halted services from healthcare to banking in protest against wage cuts and rising unemployment in the first joint general strike by the top two unions since 1988.
May 4-5 – Public-sector workers staged a 48-hour nationwide strike. On May 5, a 50,000-strong protest in Athens led to violence in which demonstrators fought police and three people were killed in a petrol bomb attack on a bank.
June 29 – Police fired tear gas at rioters shouting "burn parliament" in Athens. About 12,000 people joined marches during a strike against raising the retirement age to 65 for all.
July 8 – About 12,000 people marched against pension reform in the unions' sixth 24-hour strike against austerity measures.
Nov. 10 – ADEDY, the public sector union, said it would also join private sector workers in a 24-hour general strike planned for Dec. 15, to protest against job cuts and austerity measures.
Nov. 22 – Greek private sector union GSEE called for a pan-European strike in 2011 to take joint action against austerity measures.
Sept 29 – Spain's first general strike in eight years, called to oppose spending cuts, disrupted transport and factories but the impact was limited as most Spaniards appear to resigned to austerity to trim a massive deficit.
Nov. 8 – The main Czech labour union called a one-day strike of public sector workers for Dec. 8 to protest the government's planned wage cuts and layoffs. Such strikes are rare in the central European country, whose centre-right government has pledged to balance its budget by 2016.
— The pension reform was signed into law by President Nicolas Sarkozy on Nov. 9. The reform raised the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 and the full retirement age to 67 from 65 to balance the loss-ridden pension system by 2018.
— Fierce opposition by trade unions and the French public, who staged a sustained wave of protests over austerity measures, turned the reform into the biggest battle of Sarkozy's presidency. Unions mobilised nationwide street protests eight times since early September and rolling strikes at oil refineries caused serious fuel shortages at one stage, but the strikes are over and the turnout for protests slumped.
(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit;)