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Published: Sunday December 15, 2013 MYT 5:15:02 AM
Updated: Sunday December 15, 2013 MYT 5:16:12 AM

Italian neo-fascist group tears down flag from EU headquarters

ROME (Reuters) - An Italian neo-fascist fringe group scaled the front of the European Commission's Rome headquarters and tore down the EU flag on Saturday after a week of protests against economic hardship and austerity in the country.

Ten people including the deputy president of Casapound, far-right activists who aid the poor and venerate former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, were arrested and charged with theft, resisting authority and unauthorised protest, police said.

The group has seized on a wave of "pitchfork protests" against economic insecurity and the government to hit Italian cities in the last week. On Saturday, students demonstrated in Turin, Italy's main unions rallied outside parliament, and protesters marched in Venice and Ancona.

The widespread demonstrations reflect anger at a discredited political class and Italy's longest post-war recession, which for some has fuelled scepticism about Italy's membership in the EU and the single currency.

"Pitchfork" organisers plan a large demonstration in Rome next Wednesday.

Video footage showed a few dozen men wearing masks in the green, white and red colours of the Italian flag erecting a ladder to scale the Rome office of the European Commission, the executive body of the union of 28 states.

One protester reached the balcony and cut down the yellow-starred blue flag, throwing it to the crowd below, some of whom wore nooses around their necks to symbolise Italians who have killed themselves due to financial difficulties, a sensitive political issue.

Police beat back the protesters with batons and recovered the flag to return it to the commission.

Though organisers insist their group is not racist, Casapound has hinted it has sympathies with the anti-immigrant Greek Golden Dawn party. But Casapound has far less support and failed to win any seats in parliament in a February election.

(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary)

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