Thousands of people from across Europe are in Florence for the opening Wednesday of the European Social Forum, a meeting of anti-globalization activists. Italian authorities have stepped up security, fearing a repeat of the violence that marked the Genoa G-8 summit last year.
It is a security nightmare for the Italian authorities. They would gladly have avoided holding the anti-globalization forum in the Renaissance art city of Florence. Border controls were stepped up in the days leading up to the five day meeting.
Italy's interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, voiced his concern, saying there was good reason to fear violent demonstrations. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the police would not stand back in the face of violent protests.
Thousands of police officers have been deployed in Florence to patrol the streets, and closed-circuit cameras have been installed throughout the city. Authorities do not want a repeat of the havoc witnessed on the streets of Genoa last year.
Many fear violent protesters will target some of the city's art treasures. But Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani said this week that everything was being done to ensure that the monuments in the city would not be put at risk.
Ten thousand antiwar demonstrators staged a sit-in outside the U.S. military base of Camp Derby in Pisa. Organizers blame the United States for war and terrorism in the world.
European anti-globalization groups will hold discussions until Saturday when a mass demonstration will be held in Florence. Although organizers say it will be peaceful, they have conceded violent groups may attempt to create chaos.
The anti-globalization movement was born at a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle three years ago. Activists protest against a range of issues including genetically modified foods and market brands such as McDonald's. In Florence, one McDonald's restaurant was busy installing protection in front of its glass windows ahead of this week's meeting.