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Italians on their feet: running for sport, running for office PDF Print E-mail
Mar 22, 2010 at 08:21 PM
Italians took to the streets this past weekend in a variety of demos and other events that turned out to be a multifarious greeting to what appears to be the first days of a long-awaited Italian spring.

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On Sunday, over 15,000 contestants showed up to run in Rome's 16th Marathon (the winner, once again, an African, Ethiopian, Siraj Gena, finished the 42 kilometer course in slightly over two hours and eight minutes) and another 50,000 turned out in Milan to run in a shorter, ten kilometre race for non-professional athletes (this one won by a Kenyan). Here in the Italian capital, it was a good reason to stick close to home as I decided to do, changing a lunch reservation downtown to one in my neighbourhood of Trastevere; a journalist for the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, reported it took her over an hour and a half to drive her Vespa from the Ara Pacis monument on the Lungotevere to the Testaccio neighbourhood down river. Generally, she said, it took her five minutes! Yikes!

But if Sunday was for fun, Saturday was spent by people marching for more serious causes. In Milan, 200,000 people turned out in an anti-Mafia demonstration, in Potenza, in the Italian south, thousands joined the family of Elisa Claps, a 16 year old high school student who disappeared in 1993 and whose partly mummified body was discovered Friday (17 years later!!!!1) in the attic of the church where she was last seen. In Rome, tens of thousands rallied in and around Piazza Navona to protest the center-right government's plan to facilitate the privatization of water supply services in some Italian cities.

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And across town in Piazza San Giovanni, huge crowds turned out for an election rally organized by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to help his PDL party in next weekend's regional elections, or rather to help the PDL's candidate for the regional presidency, since the party's ticket has been excluded from the vote here on technical grounds.

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Estimates of the number of people gathered in Rome's San Giovanni square to listen to Berlusconi and to cheer candidate Renata Polverini, who is also running on her own ticket, along with the PDL's candidates for the other 12 regions where the presidency is up for grabs, ranged from the 150,000 on the part of the police to the one million claimed by the rally's organizers. In any event, it was indeed a massive turnout of ordinary Italians, young and old, who seemed to be enjoying the spring-like weather, the music provided by a band hired for the occasion and the bombastic words of the remarkably popular Mr. Berlusconi.
Sadly, for those of us who are not so easily dazzled, his speech was an collection of grossly-exaggerated claims for his government's policies, attacks on the center-left opposition and aggressive comments regarding left-leaning Italian magistrates some of whom, he ludicrously claimed, have pictures of Che Guevara in their offices.
Berlusconi, who is under investigation here on a variety of charges, including a recent inquiry into his purported attempts to convince television authorities to help quash two very aggressive political talk-shows, claimed once again to be a victim of activist magistrates (there may be some truth to this but no way as much as he says). The response of the crowd - who followed his lead in every turn of his speech - was unstinting and, quite frankly, embarrassing. Indeed, at the end of the rally these tens of thousands of hard-core supporters joined him in singing the PDL campaign song, the refrain of which is, unbelievably, "meno male che Silvio c'è" (thank goodness that Silvio exists).


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