Italian police use water cannon against refugees occupying Rome square

Police in riot gear clash with refugees near main train station after about 800 were evicted from office building on Saturday

Police using water cannon and batons have clashed with refugees who had occupied a square in Rome in defiance of an order to leave a building where they had been squatting.

Television images from the dawn operation showed people screaming and trying to hit police, who were dressed in riot gear, with sticks.

Water cannon in the square. Photograph: Angelo Carconi/AP

The square, one block from Romes main train station, was strewn with mattresses, overturned rubbish bins and broken plastic chairs.

Hung on the building was a sheet made into a banner saying: We are refugees, not terrorists, in Italian. A small fire burned on the pavement and a sheet hanging from a first-floor window was set alight by squatters inside.

Witnesses who arrived at the square after the clearance operation described a scene of carnage.

When I arrived at about 9am trash was scattered all over. About 50 people were still in the square, which had been partially closed down to traffic in the meantime. They were sad, frustrated and with no idea where to go, said Francesco Conte, founder of TerminiTv, an online channel based in Romes Termini train station.

Refugees and police face each other. Photograph: Angelo Carconi/AP

About 100 people had occupied the square since Saturday, when most of about 800 squatters were evicted from an adjacent office building they had occupied for about five years.

Police said the refugees had refused to accept lodging offered by the city and that the operation was also necessitated by the risk presented by the presence of cooking gas canisters and other flammable materials in the square, which is surrounded by apartment buildings.

Most of the squatters were Eritreans and Ethiopians who had been granted asylum. Many have been in the country for up to a decade. They ran the building as a self-regulating commune that outsiders were not permitted to enter.


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