Bush was coming to visit his fellow warmonger Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. The predominantly young protesters had come to tell him, in no uncertain terms, to get out. They also called for the withdrawal of the troops from Iraq and for an end to the occupation.
Berlusconi is trailing the opposition centre-left Olive Tree alliance in the polls for the European and local elections in Italy. He hoped that a visit from Bush would enhance his standing as a ’political statesman’. Bush, as with his visit to Blair last November, was just desperate to show that he still has some friends left and to try to boost his flagging support back home.
From 2 June, the anniversary of the founding of the Italian Republic in 1948, local protests, roadblocks, sit-ins were taking place throughout Italy. In Bologna, police attacked demonstrators wounding and hospitalising at least ten.
Prior to 4 June, Berlusconi warned of impending violence on the main demonstration. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica called his statements "irresponsible and provocative". Many people feared a repeat of Genoa 2001, when police shot and killed Carlo Giuliani on an anti-capitalist protest. In the end, despite the presence of more than 10,000 police and Carabinieri (military police), the Rome demo passed off peacefully.
Students, the ’disobbediienti’ (direct action protesters) were joined on the demonstration by members of Rifondazione Comunista (PrC), the Greens and workers marching behind banners from Fiom, the metal workers union and the ’unions of the base’.
One of these, Cobas, had called a two hour strike to coincide with the demonstration. Members of Lotta per il socialismo (CWI Italy) campaigned for the main union federations Cgil, Csil and Uil to call an eight hour general strike to show the real opposition to the war in Iraq amongst Italian workers.
But the union leaders did not heed the call. In fact, they put the emphasis on local initiatives rather than campaigning to get people to Rome. Even the PrC did not organise transport from many parts of the country.
The anger against war in Iraq is so deep (two thirds of Italians are still opposed to the war and occupation) that with a proper mobilisation the turnout on the Rome demonstration could have been many times greater. The results of a survey printed in La Repubblica (5 June) showed that, over the last 12 months, 11.8% of Italians have demonstrated on the streets - more than 6 million people.