Thousands protest against austerity in Rome

Immigrants hold placards reading "Instead of giving citizenship to the dead, give it to the living!!" (right) and "Sorry if we are not drowned!!" on Friday, Oct 18, 2013, in Rome during a demonstration of Italian trade union Cobas against austerity m
Immigrants hold placards reading "Instead of giving citizenship to the dead, give it to the living!!" (right) and "Sorry if we are not drowned!!" on Friday, Oct 18, 2013, in Rome during a demonstration of Italian trade union Cobas against austerity measures and European politics. Thousands of people protested against economic austerity in Rome as partial transport strikes across the country cancelled dozens of flights and snarled buses and trains. -- PHOTO: AFP

ROME (AFP) - Thousands of people protested against economic austerity in Rome as partial transport strikes across the country cancelled dozens of flights and snarled buses and trains.

Italy is struggling to shake off a two-year recession that has pushed unemployment to record highs and parliament is discussing a draft budget for next year that includes more cuts.

"We're giving money to the bankers! We're like a car going down a cliff," Paolo Ferrero, leader of the Communist Refoundation party, said at a demonstration by the USB union association in Rome.

Firefighters, steel workers, civil servants and students were among a few thousand people who took part in the protest march through central Rome on Friday.

The Italian capital's Fiumicino airport said 143 flights had to be cancelled because of a strike by baggage handlers and civil air transport staff.

There were also heavy delays on trains in Milan and some Rome buses joined the strike. There were similar transport strikes in Palermo and Naples.

Protesters in Rome were set to camp out in a square overnight ahead of a bigger rally by activists planned for Saturday that officials are concerned could lead to violent confrontations.