Crowds shun Italian beaches as umbrella men strike

Fri Aug 3, 2012 1:07pm EDT
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By Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - Italian beaches were devoid of their usual August crowds on Friday as beach clubs staged a short strike, the latest chapter in an emotive conflict over right of access to the Mediterranean country's sun-soaked coast.

The strike - organized by the beach workers' union during peak season - was called to protest against a government plan that would see the right to operate patches of seafront decided by auction from 2016.

Although it is state property, access to much of the Italian coast has long been controlled by the beach clubs, which blanket the sand with umbrellas and sun loungers and charge beach-goers to use them.

Access to beaches is a hot political issue in Italy, where it is traditional to abandon the sweltering cities for the coast during the August holiday season.

But as temperatures edged up to 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on Friday, rows of colorful beach umbrellas the length of Italy remained unfurled.

Beach-goers in Italy generally opt for sun loungers rather than lying directly on the sand.

Determined sun-seekers not put off by news of the two-hour strike were impeded by tied-up sun loungers and closed umbrellas carpeting much of the sand as 30,000 beach clubs refused to open.

Environmentalist groups have long protested that the beach clubs' grip illegally prevents free public access to the sea, staging protests to reclaim the beaches in a campaign the Italian media have dubbed the "beach umbrella war".   Continued...