Italian austerity protester climbs down from Vatican dome

AFP , Wednesday 3 Oct 2012

An Italian man who had perched perilously near the top of the 130 metre (426 feet) dome of St. Peter's Basilica for 24 hours to protest against austerity measures climbed down late Wednesday.

Marcello Di Finizio, who had grabbed headlines with his daring stunt, was pulled to safety by Italian firemen and the Vatican police.

"I love life so much that I'm willing to risk it. If the Italian government wants to kill people that's fine, but they have to do it in front of millions of people," Di Finizio had told the Corriere della Sera by telephone earlier.

Di Finizio, a beach resort owner from Trieste in northern Italy, had managed to slip over the rails surrounding the dome at around 1500 GMT Tuesday to gasps from tourists around him, before lowering himself with a rope onto a ledge.

From there, he hung up a banner which read: "Help! Enough Monti, Enough Europe... Do you call this growth? This is simply social butchery!"

Despite repeated attempts by Vatican police and Italian firemen to coax him off the ledge, Di Finizio spent the night there and was determined to stay.

"I'm desperate, I'm ready to risk my life," he said.

Crowds of tourists, curious bystanders and pilgrims in St. Peter's Square ogled at the sight of the defiant Di Finizio, who remained in clear view while Pope Benedict XVI held his weekly general audience to thousands of faithful.

Italian media ran live television coverage of the ledge on Wednesday and Di Finizio could be spotted in the background of reports by journalists covering the latest hearing in the Vatican trial of the pope's butler for theft.

Prime Minister Mario Monti has imposed a series of sweeping austerity measures to tackle the country's vast debt, but critics have accused him of failing to boost growth and of stifling the population with high taxes.

Two government ministers spoke to Di Finizio on the phone late on Tuesday to try and persuade him to come down but he refused, before eventually giving in.

The Vatican said Di Finizio had already scaled the dome once before, at the end of July, by pretending to be a tourist before slipping past the guards.

"Nothing has been done. Promises have been made and that's all. This story has to come to an end, Italy's economy must be restarted. They've made cuts but zero programmes for growth," Di Finizio told La Repubblica newspaper.

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