Italians dump mussel shells to protest austerity
ROME (Reuters) - Demonstrators dumped mussel shells in front of Italy's parliament on Saturday, accusing politicians of squeezing workers with an austerity package while clinging to their privileges like mussels cling to rocks.
The several hundred demonstrators were led by popular Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, who has become an anti-establishment cult figure because of his campaigns against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the centre-right government.
"I am going to dump these here, in the biggest waste dump of mussels, that is, our parliament. I am hoping they will eventually go away," Grillo said as he led the demonstrators to parliament from a rally in nearby Piazza Navonna.
The mussel shells had names of parliamentarians written on them.
Italians have increasingly been demanding that the political class take its share of the pain by renouncing perks and privileges, such as subsidized lunches and haircuts, free flights and generous pension and health benefits.
Italy's lower house of parliament will begin debating the government's 54 billion euro package of revised austerity measures on Monday before a vote later in the week.
The programme, aimed at balancing the budget by 2013, was approved in the Senate on Wednesday following mounting pressure on Italian government bonds and growing impatience among Rome's European partners.
The package, agreed after multiple changes, includes a 1 percentage point hike in value-added tax, adjustments to pension rules and a special 3 percent levy on incomes over 300,000 euros ($422,000) as well as cuts to government spending.
(Reporting by Antonio Denti and Cristiano Corvino; Editing by Philip Pullella and Peter Graff)