Hundreds of people marched on Saturday amid massive security measures put in place for the Group of Seven summit nearby, protesting against world leaders who they said ignored the interests of regular people.
Some 3,500 were expected to turn up, but actual turnout appeared to be about half of that.
Salvatore Giordano, a high school professor from the island of Sicily, blamed the low turnout of in part on heavy security. He was stopped by police multiple times and blocked for a half-hour at the highway exit before finally being let through. Police were also stopping buses and searching them, he said.
“They are criminalising our dissent,” Giordano said. “We’re pacifists. We’re not here to break windows, but to protest against Sicily being turned into a giant aircraft carrier for the world’s military powers.”
U.S. President Donald Trump and the heads of Italy, France, Britain, Germany, Canada and Japan had been meeting in Taormina, which sits on a rocky hilltop just north of Giardini Naxos.
Bus loads of police lined the route of the march in what is normally a sleepy town of beach-going tourists, while a police helicopter circled above.
Giordano came to air his opposition to the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), part of an ultra-fast satellite communications network for the American military that he says poses a health risk to people living near the infrastructure.
Another group of protesters carried red flags bearing the communist hammer and sickle symbol.
Alessandro D’Alessandro, the coordinator of Sicily’s communist party, said there had been a media campaign of fear against the protesters, which kept numbers low.
“It was hard to get here,” D’Alessandro said. “But we came to tell the world’s most powerful people that we oppose their military and capitalistic worldview. We’re here to defend the interests of the weakest.”
Fears of violent protests like the ones seen during a G7 summit in the northern Italian city of Genoa in 2001 prompted the mayor of Giardini Naxos to order all local businesses to close for the day.
Sixteen years ago throngs of protesters in Genoa clashed with authorities in street battles spread out over two days, and police shot dead an anti-globalisation protester during some of Italy’s worst-ever riots.
In Giardini, shopkeepers boarded up windows and complained about lost business as the tourist season gets underway.