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Rome set for mass protests over crisis

ROME, Apr 4 – Tens of thousands of demonstrators headed in five columns on Saturday to Rome to protest the Italian government\’s handling of the financial crisis.

Led by Italy\’s largest union, the left-wing Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), they were marching under the slogan "Together to Build a Different Future" Circo Massimo

Forty trainloads and nearly 5,000 buses as well as two ships have brought protesters to Rome from all over Italy, the left-wing daily La Repubblica reported.

CGIL leader Guglielmo Epifani told the paper the union hoped the crowds would exceed a million. Protestors were set to converge at Circo Massimo, an ancient hippodrome that is now a public park.

Italy went into recession in the third quarter of last year, and gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 1.0 percent for the year in the worst downturn since 1975.

Industry has been hard hit by the crisis, resulting in a spate of temporary layoffs. Job losses totalled some 370,500 in January and February, a 46 percent jump over the same period last year.

"All over the world unions are protesting, all over the world governments are trying to confront workers\’ problems, not to negate the problem like our prime minister is doing," opposition Democratic Party leader Dario Franceschini told the ANSA news agency at the march.

"It is a falsehood … to say that since the crisis is global the solutions can only be at an international level," he said. "The crisis must be faced with concrete measures taken by national governments."

Franceschini initially hesitated to join the protest because of divisions within the Italian union movement, notably over the CGIL\’s rejection of contract reforms approved by two smaller unions.

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Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has accused the media of exaggerating the crisis and insisted that Italy was doing more than any other country to address the situation.

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