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1ST LEAD Major rallies held in Milan, Rome ahead of Italian election By Lena Klimkeit, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Milan/Rome (dpa) - Thousands of people were rallying in various cities across Italy on Saturday, one week before voters are set to head to the polls to vote for a new parliament.

Fears were high that large clashes would break out between left-wing and right-wing groups, especially in Rome, Milan and Palermo.

Security checks were in place at Milan‘s central cathedral square, where the right-wing populist League party expected 50,000 people at an afternoon rally headed by party leader Matteo Salvini.

In Rome, left-wing groups and the Social Democratic Party took to the streets in a march against racism, with some 20,000 estimated to attend. Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and former president Matteo Renzi also took part in the demonstrations.

In recent weeks, demonstrations have led to repeated clashes between anti-fascists and security forces, with several arrests and injuries reported.

The competing parties can still hold election campaign events up until Friday. On March 4, around 51 million Italians can head to the polls to vote for a new parliament.

Polls have placed the centre-right alliance consisting of Salvini‘s League, the Forza Italia led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other smaller right-wing parties in the lead.

Meanwhile, the governing Democratic Party is facing a bitter defeat. Many Italians are expected to cast protest votes for the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which is on pace to be the largest single party in parliament.


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