Protesters in Rome smashed shop windows and torched cars (Photo:AP)
Clashes broke out at an anti-capitalist protest in Rome attended by tens of thousands of people on Saturday, with one group setting fire to a government office and riot police firing tear gas and water.
Groups of violent protesters threw bottles and smoke bombs at police lines at a rally that had passed off mostly peacefully as part of a global day of protests inspired by the "Occupy Wall Street" and "Indignant" movements.
Some protesters smashed bank and shop windows and set cars alight, while others shouted "No to violence!" and tried to restrain them.
Police said three people were injured, including one man who was hit by a bottle as he tried to stop violent protesters.
"Only One Solution: Revolution!" read one placard at the protest. Another said: "We Are Not Assets in the Hands of Bankers!" One group carried a cardboard coffin with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's name on it.
"Today is only the beginning. We hope to move forward with a global movement. There are many of us and we want the same things," said one protester, Andrea Muraro, a 24-year-old engineering student from Padua.
Around him, protesters chanted: "We're not paying for the crisis!"
"I hope politicians realise that this many people and around the world don't agree with their way of managing our lives," said a student organiser, Jacopo.
Famous monuments including the Colosseum and the Roman Forum were closed down and four metro stations were shut as 1,500 police officers patrolled the streets, while two police helicopters could be seen circling above.
The total number of participants expected was estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000 people, Italian media reported, citing organisers.
Numbers were boosted after Italy's main trade unions and student movements gave their backing to the protest.
Protesters came from 80 provinces across Italy.
"Young people are right to be indignant," Italian central bank chief Mario Draghi, who is set to take over as head of the European Central Bank next month, said on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Paris, Italian media reported.
"They're angry against the world of finance. I understand them," said the 64-year-old, a former vice chairman at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, adding however that "the demonstration should not degenerate."
As reports of the violence came through, he said: "It's a great shame."
Similar protests in the Italian capital in December 2010 degenerated into running street battles in the city centre and left dozens injured. There have been fears of clashes ahead of Saturday's rally.