Italian police gear up for Rome protest

Italian police cracked down on alleged militants and confiscated potential weapons on Friday on the eve of an anti-austerity protest in Rome amid fears that the demonstration could turn violent.

Italian police gear up for Rome protest
Demonstrators clash with riot police during a demonstration against unemployement in Naples in November 2012. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

Saturday's protest was expected to be bigger than a peaceful march on Friday in which thousands of people took to the streets as partial transport strikes across the country cancelled dozens of flights and snarled buses and trains.

Italy is struggling to shake off a two-year recession that has pushed unemployment to record highs and parliament is discussing a draft budget for next year that includes more cuts.

"We're giving money to the bankers! We're like a car going down a cliff," Paolo Ferrero, leader of the Communist Refoundation party, said at a demonstration by the USB union federation.

Firefighters, steel workers, civil servants and students were among a few thousand people who took part in the protest march through central Rome.

The Italian capital's Fiumicino airport said 143 flights had to be cancelled because of a strike by baggage handlers and civil air transport staff.

Protesters in the capital were set to camp out in a square overnight ahead of Saturday's rally that officials are concerned could lead to violent confrontations.

Over 3,000 police officers are expected to patrol the demonstration as it snakes through the capital.

Many shops were expected to remain closed with their shutters down for the duration of the rally in a bid to minimise damage to property.

On Friday, police picked up five French nationals and expelled them from the country, accusing them of being "professional anarchists" planning to disrupt the protest, Italian media reported.

Officers also pulled over a suspect van which was found to be carrying hammers, clubs, billiard balls and fire extinguishers.

The rally will be led by an anti high-speed rail movement and an association for rights to housing.

Reports suggest demonstrators may be planning to occupy buildings, including hotels, in protest over a lack of accommodation for poor families who have been hit hard by the recession, the longest Italy has suffered since the post-war period.

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Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

A Frenchwoman and a Spaniard were killed and nine other mountaineers were injured on Friday in an ice fall in southwest Switzerland, police said following a rescue attempt involving several helicopters.

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

Police received calls at 6.20 am reporting that mountaineers had been caught up in falling seracs — columns of glacial ice formed by crevasses — on the Grand Combin, a glacial massif near the Italian border in the Wallis region.

Seven helicopters with mountain rescue experts flew to the scene, finding 17 mountaineers split among several groups.

“Two people died at the scene of the accident,” Wallis police said in a statement. They were a 40-year-old Frenchwoman and a 65-year-old man from Spain.

Nine mountaineers were airlifted to hospitals in nearby Sion and in Lausanne. Two of them are seriously injured, police said.

Other mountaineers were evacuated by helicopter.

The regional public prosecutor has opened an investigation “to determine the circumstances of this event”, the police said.

The serac fall happened at an altitude of 3,400 metres in the Plateau de Dejeuner section along the Voie du Gardien ascent route.

The Grand Combin massif has three summits above 4,000 metres, the highest of which is the Combin de Grafeneire at 4,314 metres.

The police issued a note of caution about setting off on such high-altitude expeditions.

“When the zero-degree-Celsius isotherm is around 4,000 metres above sea level, it is better to be extra careful or not attempt the route if in doubt,” Wallis police said.

“The golden rule is to find out beforehand from the mountain guides about the chosen route and its current feasibility.”