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article imageThousands protest over Rome's decline as mayor teeters

By Fanny CARRIER (AFP)     Oct 27, 2018 in World

Thousands of protesters rallied in the centre of Rome Saturday over the Italian capital's decrepit infrastructure, as the legal woes of its mayor whetted political appetites on the far right.

Holding strips of the orange plastic netting that city authorities place around potholes, fallen trees and dangerous pavements, the demonstrators said Virginia Raggi, the city's first female mayor, was responsible for Rome's pitiful transport service and woeful garbage collection.

The cry "Rome says enough!" has spread in recent weeks on social media, with residents sick of buses that burst into flames, parks left to run wild and abandoned buildings taken over by drug peddlers.

The demonstration was arranged before a horrific accident this week in which more than 20 people, mainly Russian football fans, were injured when an escalator in one of the city's main metro stations collapsed.

Raggi won the seat in 2016 for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) with 67 percent of the vote, after both the traditional left and right-wing parties were seen to have failed to get to grips with a city drowning in debt.

She has struggled to build a team or fix the problems she inherited and her popularity has plummeted.

- 'Completely abandoned' -

"The situation is deteriorating day by day. The city has been completely abandoned. After two years, (Raggi) can no longer blame the previous administration," said 61-year old pensioner Fiorella.

Raggi's popularity has nosedived
Raggi's popularity has nosedived
Filippo MONTEFORTE, AFP

Raggi is also standing trial on charges she lied about a council appointment, with a verdict in the case expected in November.

The mayor says she selected Renato Marra to be her tourism director without any undue influence. Prosecutors, however, say it was Renato's brother Raffaele -- Raggi's former right-hand man -- who got his sibling the job.

Should Raggi be found guilty, she will be expected to stand down -- potentially opening up the post of mayor to the far-right.

"We have to send this woman home and find someone whose sole purpose is not to smile for photographers," said 75-year-old protester Cecilia Todeschini.

She was holding a sign saying: "Rats, mosquitoes and Rome's boars thank her. The citizens don't!"

Student Giancarlo, 23, said he was "glad so many people came" to protest, adding: "We can't stand this inertia any longer".

Raggi's predecessor, centre-left mayor Ignazio Marino, was forced to resign in 2015 two years after taking office, over allegations he fiddled his expenses. He was later cleared of all wrongdoing.

A special commissioner was appointed to run the city until a mayoral election could be held.

- Fascism fears -

As Raggi's grip on the capital falters in turn, the political sharks have begun circling.

Strongman Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister and head of the far-right League party, has been increasingly outspoken against the mayor, to the fury of the M5S, his coalition partner in government.

Salvini, whose party has shot up in popularity to hold over 30 percent of voter intentions, has promised a firm hand where Raggi is soft, by tackling drug peddling and shutting down 100 squats in the capital.

The League, which until earlier this year was called the Northern League and had limited geographical reach, has long complained the south of the country is lazy and corrupt, dubbing Rome in particular "the great thief".

But in its new incarnation as a national force, the party's biggest coup would be landing the capital.

The prospect horrified many of those protesting Saturday, who were mainly from the centre-left.

"I was born under Fascism, I do not intend to die under it", one old lady said.

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