ROME (Reuters) – Police using water cannon and batons clashed on Thursday with refugees who had occupied a small Rome square in defiance of an order to leave a building where they had been squatting.
The clashes were the latest example of tensions in Italy as the country deals with an influx of migrants. They quickly became fodder for political debate, particularly on the police handling of the incident.
Refugees were screaming and trying to hit police, who were dressed in riot gear, with sticks.
The square, just one block from Rome’s main train station, was strewn with mattresses, overturned rubbish bins and broken plastic chairs.
Some 100 refugees had occupied Piazza Independenza since Saturday, when most of about 800 squatters were evicted from an adjacent office building they had occupied for about five years.
Hung on the building was a sheet with writing reading “We are refugees, not terrorists” in Italian.
A small fire burned on the pavement and a sheet hanging from a first-floor window was set alight by squatters inside.
Most of the squatters were Eritreans who had been granted asylum. Police said they had refused to accept lodging offered by the city.
In a statement, the police said the refugees had gas canisters, some of which they had opened, and officers had been hit by rocks, bottles and pepper spray. Two people were arrested and Doctors With Borders said in a statement that its medics had given first aid to 13 refugees, including one for a broken bone.