SYLVIA POGGIOLI BYLINE: This is Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.

Huge numbers of Italians took part in the biggest ever Europe-wide protest against austerity policies that plunged the EU's southern rim into recession and massive unemployment. In Rome, this young man joined university students protesting against government cuts in education.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BYLINE: We want more rights in the workplace, he says, and investments in information technology. Europe used to be a place that inspired a sense of hope. Today, he adds, all we have is a sense of fear.

Italy has had no growth in a decade, and its debt burden has swollen to nearly 127 percent of GDP. The IMF forecasts further economic decline next year. In today's protests, clashes broke out in Milan, Turin and Padua. The most violent were in Rome.


BYLINE: Street battles brought traffic to a standstill as police fired tear gas canisters on protesters trying to reach the Prime Minister's office.


BYLINE: A year ago, Mario Monti, the technocrat, was hailed when he replaced Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister. But Monti's strict austerity measures raised taxes and slashed pensions and public sector jobs, making him the target of a populist backlash. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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