May 2, 2015 / 3:13 PM / 2 years ago

Italy opposition calls for minister to go after Expo riots

Cars are set on fire by protesters during a rally against Expo 2015 in Milan, May 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors opened an investigation on Saturday into rioting in Milan that disrupted the start of Expo 2015, while opposition parties called on the interior minister to resign.

Twenty-four hours after the riot, in which cars were torched, street fittings wrecked and buildings damaged by fire and defaced by spray paint, much of the visible damage had already been cleaned up by citizens and municipal workers.

The violence marred the opening day of the Expo, a global fair focused on the theme of sustainable food production, that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said would help put a new face on Italy after years of economic decline.

Milan’s anti-terrorism prosecutors opened an investigation into allegations of major acts of vandalism, which carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, against five people who have been arrested and other as-yet-unknown perpetrators.

With local and regional elections bringing about 17 million Italians to the ballot box later his month, opposition Northern League and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement both pressed Interior Minister Angelino Alfano to resign.

Opposition leaders said Alfano, the leader of a centrist bloc allied with Renzi’s Democratic Party, failed to prevent the violence and damage, despite widespread expectations of trouble.

Most of the protesters marched peacefully, criticizing the Expo as a symbol of waste and corruption.

But when a minority of masked, black-clad protesters began to throw petrol bombs and set fire to cars and bank branches, police sought to isolate them instead of rushing in to stop the destruction with force.

“Four little hooligans with silver spoons in their mouths will not succeed in ruining the Expo,” Renzi said in an interview with RAI state TV. Police “did their job seriously and avoided provoking” the demonstrators, Renzi said.

The 5-Star Movement said it would present a motion of no confidence in parliament against Alfano.

Northern League leader Matteo Salvini called a protest against the government’s handling of the riot, which he called a “global embarrassment”, for Monday in front of Milan’s La Scala opera house.

Officials said they would maintain the reinforced security measures introduced before the riot, which included almost 4,000 extra police assigned to protect Expo 2015.

Writing by Steve Scherer and James Mackenzie; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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