A demonstration against a plan to restrict access through the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria has turned violent, with Italian police firing teargas at hundreds of protesters throwing stones and firecrackers.
The clashes coincided with scuffles in Berlin between far-right marchers calling on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to resign over immigration and a much larger group of leftwing counter-demonstrators.
Austria has said it plans to erect a fence at the Alpine crossing it shares with Italy to “channel” people. Part of Europe’s borderless Schengen zone, Brenner is one of the routes that migrants use as they head towards wealthy northern Europe.
Two police officers were injured in the clashes, the head of a local Italian police union, Fulvio Coslovi, told Reuters. He said that about 10 demonstrators were being held by police. Local police in Tyrol, Austria said over 600 protesters showed up to the third violent demonstration at the Brenner Pass in just over a month, meeting at the Brenner station in Italy.
TV footage showed clouds of smoke filling the Brenner railway station as groups of protesters, their faces masked against the fumes, hurled stones and smoke bombs as they faced off against lines of police in riot gear. Estimates on the number of demonstrators varied between 250 and 600.
The Italian newspaper Corriera della Sera reported this week that the protest had been organised by an anarchist group from Trentino, northern Italy, and was expected to attract demonstrators from abroad.
In Berlin, far-right protesters joined a march demanding that Merkel step down for allowing more than a million migrants from the Middle East into Germany since last year. They gathered outside Berlin’s central railway station waving German flags and holding up posters reading “Islamists not welcome” and “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the people”), a slogan coined by the protesters who ended communist rule in East Germany, adopted last year by the anti-Islam Pegida movement.
The rally drew about 1,800 participants, police said, and the protesters were outnumbered by about 7,500 left-wing counter-demonstrators.
A police spokesman said there had been scuffles when several left-wing demonstrators tried to break through barriers separating the two groups, and threw bottles at police. Police used teargas and made several arrests, the spokesman said.
The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, said after talks with Merkel on Thursday that Italy and Germany were utterly opposed to Austria’s plan to build a fence on the Italian border.