Rioters hijack Rome protests, police fire tear gas

ROME – Italian riot police fired tear gas and water cannons in Rome on Saturday as violent protesters hijacked a peaceful demonstration against corporate greed – smashing bank windows, torching cars and hurling bottles.

Elsewhere, hundreds of thousands nicknamed “the indignant” marched without incident in cities across Europe, as the “Occupy Wall Street” protests linked up with long-running demonstrations against European governments’ austerity measures.

Clad in black with their faces covered, protesters threw rocks, bottles and incendiary devices at banks and Roman police in riot gear. With clubs and hammers, they destroyed bank ATMs, set trash bins on fire and assaulted at least two news crews from Sky Italia.

Riot police charged the protesters repeatedly, firing water cannons and tear gas. Around 70 people were injured, according to news reports.

Elsewhere, autumn sunshine and a social media campaign brought out thousands across Europe.

In Spain, the Indignant Movement that began around-the-clock “occupation” protest camps in May, which lasted for weeks, held evening marches Saturday.

Organizers said 300,000 people took part, but police did not offer an estimate.

Portuguese protesters angry at their government’s handling of the economic crisis pushed against police lines in Lisbon, but were stopped from storming parliament. Portugal is one of three European nations – along with Greece and Ireland – that has had to accept an international bailout.

In Frankfurt, continental Europe’s financial hub, 5,000 people protested at the European Central Bank.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange spoke to protesters outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, calling the international banking system a “recipient of corrupt money.”

In Paris, marchers shook their fists and shouted as they passed the city’s historic stock exchange, before congregating by the hundreds outside the ornate City Hall.

The Greek capital of Athens has seen near-daily strikes and protests as the government fights to avoid bankruptcy. Some 2,000 rallied Saturday outside parliament. In Thessaloniki, 3,000 took part in a peaceful protest.

In Brussels, thousands marched through downtown and pelted the stock exchange building with old shoes.

Some 300 activists rallied in Helsinki with homemade signs and stalls full of art and food.

In South Africa, about 50 activists rallied outside the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Support for the anti-capitalist protest movement was light in Asia, where the global economy is booming.