Thousands join anti-austerity march in Rome

ROME (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people joined a union-organised march in Rome Saturday, protesting against the new coalition government's austerity measures.

The metal workers union FIOM said the rally was to demand "the right to jobs, training and health care".

"We cannot wait any longer," said FIOM secretary Maurizio Landini as Italy is mired in recession.

He said the country's dire economic conditions began with the decisions of the previous governments of Silvio Berlusconi and Mario Monti.

But his message to new Prime Minister Enrico Letta was "to put jobs back at the centre" of the political debate.

The unemployment rate in Italy has reached 11.5 per cent, and a staggering 38.4 perc ent among young people aged 15 to 24.

"We have to stop the layoffs and reform social aid," said Mr Landini, calling for benefits to fight against job security.

Organisers claimed some 100,000 people turned out for the march and rally in central Rome.

Italy's national statistics agency last week forecast that the economy will shrink by 1.4 per cent this year - drastically downgrading its earlier forecast of a 0.5 per cent contraction.

Mr Letta formed a grand coalition government last month after the country was rudderless following inconclusive February elections.

He said last week about the challenges he faces: "I never said it would be easy. On the contrary, I know very well that it is very difficult."