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Kurdish protesters clash with Italian police during Erdogan’s visit

IANS | Rome |

Italian security forces clashed with pro-Kurdish demonstrators and held two people on Monday during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit, police said.

“Following the violent aggression towards security forces by protesters at Castel Sant’Angelo, the demonstration was brought to an end,” said the Rome police headquarters in a statement.

“Two people were arrested. We are in the process of identifying them from police images,” the statement added.

Police earlier said around 150 people took part in the authorised demonstration, organised by Italy’s Kurdistan Network, in the gardens of Castel Sant’Angelo, outside the ‘green zone’ cordoned off by police in central Rome.

Amid a massive security lockdown, Italian authorities took the unprecedented step of banning demonstrations inside the ‘green zone’ from Erdogan’s arrival late on Sunday to his departure on late on Monday.

The Castel Sant’Angelo protest was organised by the Rome Kurdistan Network in protest at Erdogan’s visit and the deadly Turkish military offensive launched in January in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

“The protest is to strongly state #ErdoganNotWelcome – Rome does not want you here and rejects the government’s silent complicity in the bombing of Afrin,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators accused police of acting like Turkish security forces, saying they were being assaulted and corralled inside the Castel Sant’Angelo monument during the protest.

“We are virtually being held prisoners at Castel Sant Angelo, not just us but also the journalists who are here,” the Kurdistan Network in Italy’s spokesman Alessio Arconzo told AKI news agency.

“The police are preventing us from moving, they have surrounded us and are threatening us with immediate arrest if we unfurl banners,” he said.

“We are being treated as if we were in Turkey,” Arconzo said, calling the situation “surreal and embarrassing”.

Arconzo claimed that police had “violently charged” protesters, injuring a 50-year-old man in the head. A second person was taken to a police station to be identified, he said.

A total of 3,500 police have been deployed for Erdogan’s visit amid a security lockdown.

Police said that the “organisers agreed with Rome police to hold the protest in an area adjacent to but not inside the green zone – to guarantee freedom of expression and dissent”.

Erdogan met Pope Francis, Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni during his visit to the capital.