Thousands of protesters rallied in the centre of Rome Saturday over the Italian capital’s decrepit infrastructure, as the legal woes of its mayor whetted political appetites on the far right. Holding strips of the orange plastic netting that city authorities place around potholes, fallen trees and dangerous pavements, the demonstrators said Virginia Raggi, the city’s first female mayor, was responsible for Rome’s pitiful transport service and woeful garbage collection.
The cry “Rome says enough!” has spread in recent weeks on social media, with residents sick of buses that burst into flames, parks left to run wild and abandoned buildings taken over by drug peddlers. The demonstration was arranged before a horrific accident this week in which more than 20 people, mainly Russian football fans, were injured when an escalator in one of the city’s main metro stations collapsed.
Raggi won the seat in 2016 for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) with 67 percent of the vote, after both the traditional left and right-wing parties were seen to have failed to get to grips with a city drowning in debt. She has struggled to build a team or fix the problems she inherited and her popularity has plummeted.
“The situation is deteriorating day by day. The city has been completely abandoned. After two years, (Raggi) can no longer blame the previous administration,” said 61-year old pensioner Fiorella.
Raggi is also standing trial on charges she lied about a council appointment, with a verdict in the case expected in November. The mayor says she selected Renato Marra to be her tourism director without any undue influence. Prosecutors, however, say it was Renato’s brother Raffaele — Raggi’s former right-hand man — who got his sibling the job.
Should Raggi be found guilty, she will be expected to stand down — potentially opening up the post of mayor to the far-right.
“We have to send this woman home and find someone whose sole purpose is not to smile for photographers,” said 75-year-old protester Cecilia Todeschini.
She was holding a sign saying: “Rats, mosquitoes and Rome’s boars thank her. The citizens don’t!”
Student Giancarlo, 23, said he was “glad so many people came” to protest, adding: “We can’t stand this inertia any longer”.
Raggi’s predecessor, centre-left mayor Ignazio Marino, was forced to resign in 2015 two years after taking office, over allegations he fiddled his expenses. He was later cleared of all wrongdoing. A special commissioner was appointed to run the city until a mayoral election could be held.