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Italy's nationalist CasaPound movement launches transformation into political party

By Eric J. Lyman (Xinhua)

09:26, November 26, 2012

ROME, Nov. 25 (Xinhua) -- In what will likely prove to be the first high-profile step toward transforming CasaPound, Italy's extreme right movement with a history of violence, into a more palatable political force, some 6,000 of the group's members, sympathizers, curious onlookers marched through the streets of Rome Saturday without incident.
Saturday was a day of protests in Rome. There was a CasaPound counter-demonstration by Italian communists and anti-Fascists, plus student marches to protest against the government controversial austerity measures. But it was CasaPound demonstration that drew the lion's share of attention in what was by far the group's largest public demonstration to date.

The group, named for 20th Century right-wing poet and intellectual Ezra Pound, has a history peppered with violent clashes and aggressive and vulgar rhetoric. But on Saturday, the group took some small steps to put that reputation behind it.

"They (the group's critics) say we are racists and they call us names, they describe us as the opposite of what we really are," shouted CasaPound president Gianluca Iannone from a platform on the back of a truck at Rome's Ponte Milvio, at the end of a the 5-kilometer march through the city.

"People owe us an apology because we have proven that we are a peaceful movement," he continued, overlooking a huge crowd, with the group's red, black, and white flags waiving. "Perhaps that is exactly what frightened those who spread the lies by saying we would spread chaos in the city."

The group was founded nearly a decade ago in Rome, and until recently was known for violent clashes, a curious mix of neo-Fascist ideology and left-wing practices like using squatting laws to gain control of property, and for its savvy use of social media and the internet. Only recently has the group become its transformation into a political movement, with an eye toward presenting candidates in elections scheduled for next year.

To expert observers, Saturday's march was notable both because of its size -- predictions were that the group would have done well to attract 1500 marchers, a fourth of the official figure used by police -- and because of the event's precise organization.

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