Two demonstrations were held in Rome on Saturday, one in favor and the other against the war against Taleban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan. Extra-heavy security managed to keep the two sides apart.
Security forces were deployed in the thousands for the rival marches. Authorities closed the airspace over Rome and an AWAC radar plane monitored the skies for any rogue planes. Four subway stations in the city center were closed and riot and plain-clothes policemen were out in the streets.
Despite the uncertain weather, thousands of people waving American and Italian flags, gathered in the central Piazza del Popolo. They were there for what was called a "USA Day" rally to show solidarity with the United States and the fight against terrorism. Among the speakers was Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino. "I think it's wonderful," he says, "that we are all out here today to demonstrate against terrorism and show our solidarity with the country that was a victim to this barbaric aggression."
A large stage was set up in the square with a background of the U.S. flag flying beside the Italian tricolor flag and displaying the slogan "Not to forget."
The event was attended by leading entertainers and figures from the sport and fashion worlds. A delegation of New York fire fighters also took part in the event. And, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, keen to show his government is a staunch ally of the United States, addressed the crowd. Mr. Berlusconi proposes that every year from now on that September 11 will be set aside as a day to remember all the victims of terrorism and fanaticism.
Less than two kilometers away, anti-war demonstrators gathered to voice their opposition to the bombing of Afghanistan. They marched peacefully waving Communist flags and holding banners reading "No alla Guerra" - No to War.
With the memory still fresh of anti-globalization riots in Genoa this year, security forces had taken no chances this time and the two rallies were kept well apart from each other.