By Nick Squires at the Telegraph
Italy was hit by strikes, violent demonstrations and protests against refugees on Friday as anger and frustration towards soaring unemployment and the enduring economic crisis exploded onto the streets.
Riot police clashed with protesters, students and unionists in Milan and Padua, in the north of the country, while in Rome a group of demonstrators scaled the Colosseum to protest against the labour reforms proposed by the government of Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old prime minister.
Eggs and fire crackers were hurled at the economy ministry.
On the gritty, long-neglected outskirts of Rome there was continuing tension outside a centre for refugees, which was repeatedly attacked by local residents during the week.
A group of 36 teenage migrants had to be evacuated from the centre in Tor Sapienza, a working-class suburb, on Thursday night after the authorities said the area was no longer safe for them.
Locals had hurled stones, flares and other missiles at the migrant centre, smashing windows, setting fire to dumpster rubbish bins and fighting running battles with riot police during several nights of violence.
They demanded that the facility be closed down and claimed that the refugees from Africa and Asia were dirty, anti-social and violent.
Some protesters, with suspected links to the extreme Right, yelled "Viva Il Duce" or Long Live Mussolini, calling the migrants "b*******", "animals" and "filthy Arabs".
Despite the threats, around 17 of the young migrants returned to centre, called Un Sorriso (A Smile) on Friday, saying they had nowhere else to go.
In an open letter to Italians the migrants, many of whom risked their lives to get to Italy by crossing the Mediterranean in boats run by smugglers, wrote: "In these last few days we have heard many bad things said about us – that we steal, that we rape women, that we are uncivilised.
"These words are very hurtful – we did not come to Italy to create problems, least of all to fight with Italians. We are truly grateful to them – we were saved in the middle of the sea by the Italian authorities. We are here to build new lives."
Finance Guard policemen protect themselves from paint thrown by demonstrators in Rome (AP)
The sense of chaos in the country was heightened by transport strikes, which disrupted buses, trams, trains and even flights at Rome's Fiumicino airport. Demonstrations also took place in Turin, Naples and Genoa.
Unemployment among young people in Italy is around 42 per cent, prompting tens of thousands to emigrate in search of better opportunities, with Britain the top destination. The overall jobless rate is 12 per cent.
Mr Renzi's attempts to reform the country's labour laws, making it easier for firms to dismiss lazy or inefficient employees, are bitterly opposed by the unions.
The ongoing recession has also exacerbated racial tensions, with some Italians blaming refugees and immigrants for their economic woes.
Italy is struggling to cope with the huge number of refugees and economic migrants arriving on its shores by boat from North Africa.
Demonstrators during a protest against Matteo Renzi and his planned job reforms in Milan (AP)
In the last 12 months, around 150,000 made it to Italian soil, with many of them rescued by the Italian navy and coast guard as part of a humanitarian operation that was controversially shut down on Nov 1.
Opposition to immigration has helped fuel a surge in support for the anti-immigrant Northern League party.