LONDON (Reuters) - The global “Day of Rage” against the world’s financial system won some limited sympathy from political and economic leaders on Sunday, after protests that were peaceful everywhere but Italy.
Cities from east Asia to Europe and north America saw rallies on Saturday denouncing capitalism, inequality and economic crisis, but riot police were busy only in Rome.
The city cleared up on Sunday, a day after masked “Black Bloc” protesters torched cars, attacked banks and hurled rocks.
“They must be condemned by everyone without reservation,” Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.
“Yesterday we once again showed the world the anomaly of Italy and today, again, we have to feel shame,” La Stampa newspaper said. Mayor Gianni Alemanno said the capital would long suffer the “moral damage” of the rampage.
Many Italians asked why police had managed to arrest only 12 of the violent demonstrators.
Tens of thousands of other “indignant ones” had marched peacefully against the government of deeply indebted Italy.
On Sunday a small group of peaceful protesters gathered by a church near where some of the violence took place to continue a sit-in. “We are the real indignant ones,” one said. “They stole our day”.
Berlusconi’s Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said the leftist opposition shared blame for the mayhem because its rhetoric implied “everything is justifiable as long as we get rid of Berlusconi, the ‘evil of Italy’”.
Lisbon and Madrid also saw tens of thousands march on Saturday. Spanish outrage has been fuelled by multi-million-euro payouts for top staff at failed regional banks, amid high unemployment and harsh spending cuts.
But most turnouts worldwide were lower. “People don’t want to get involved. They’d rather watch on TV,” said Troy Simmons, 47, protesting in New York, where the Occupy Wall Street movement that inspired the global day of unrest began.
In New York a few dozen were arrested for minor offences. Chicago police said they arrested about 175 protesters in a downtown plaza where some had set up tents and sleeping bags.
Other cities across the United States and Canada saw modestly sized and peaceful demonstrations.
“I am going to start my life as an adult in debt and that’s not fair,” student Nathaniel Brown said in Washington.
“Millions of teenagers across the country are going to start their futures in debt, while all of these corporations are getting money fed all the time and none of us can get any.”
The wave of protest was not quite all over on Sunday. Around 250 protesters set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral on the edge of London’s financial district, promising to occupy the site indefinitely to show their anger over the global economic crisis.
The group had tried to take over the area in front of the nearby London Stock Exchange on Saturday. After being thwarted by police, the group moved to the cathedral and put up 70 tents. Some said they would stay there as long as possible.
“People are saying enough is enough, we want a real democracy, not one that is based on the interests of big business and the banking system,” said protester Jane McIntyre.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had some sympathy.
“It is true that a lot of things have to be faced up to in the Western world and there have been too many debts built up by states, and clearly in the banking system a lot has gone wrong,” he told BBC TV.
“However, protest won’t be the answer to that. The answer is (for) governments to control their debts and deficits. I’m afraid protesting the streets is not going to solve the problem.”
European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said the financial system could not be left in such a fragile state.
“It is our task to make the world financial system much more solid ... that is how I interpret part of the message that comes from this movement,” Trichet said in an interview.
But he said authorities should not “demolish” the banks, as they financed three-quarters of the economy.
Trichet said the European Union’s treaty should be changed to prevent one member state from destabilising the rest of the bloc, and urged stronger euro zone governance.
A dozen tents housing around 40 protesters also appeared in front of Trichet’s ECB headquarters in Frankfurt.
The rallies tracked the sun from the Asia-Pacific region westwards on Saturday, but the first demonstrations in the east made ripples rather than waves.
Protesters gathered in their hundreds in Japan and across Southeast Asia. Wealthy Singapore didn’t even manage that.
The pro-government Sunday Times appeared to take pride in the non-turnout after a call to gather in the financial centre failed to materialise.
“What’s missing in this picture?” it asked above a picture of three policemen patrolling an almost empty Raffles Place.
In a region where many countries are still booming, protesters’ grievances were less to do with economics than in Europe and north America.
“Anti-capitalism is not my cause but anti-authoritarianism is definitely my cause and as citizens ... we came here to stand up for our rights,” said lecturer Wong Chin Huat, 38, at a small protest in Kuala Lumpur.
In Tokyo, many gathered to complain about radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, seven months after an earthquake and tsunami.
Some analysts say the world faces a systemic rise in anger, protest and volatility that could last decades, and that rich-world unrest shares some roots with the Arab Spring.
“One word: accountability,” Professor Hayat Alvi of the United States Naval War Collegen said.
“This is the season of demanding accountability and the application of the rule of law, especially targeting the ruling political elites and the economic elites as well.”